Comfy Cow, the beloved small batch ice cream chain created by Tim and Roy Koons-McGee in 2009, is coping with a shortage of its premium product just as the bountiful summer season approaches.
For weeks now, The Comfy Cow stores have been down to as few as four flavors for scoops and have had empty refrigerators, according to customers who have taken to social media to express their dismay.
The Comfy Cow in Old Louisville near the University of Louisville campus has also abruptly closed. On Facebook, a representative for Comfy Cow said it would reopen “soon” but was “not sure the date.”
Insider has reached out to both owners for insight but has not heard back. On Monday, Tim Koons-McGee issued the following statement to Louisville HotBytes:
We had our main ice cream making machine breakdown and the parts took over a month to come in. On top of that our grocery business took off like a rocket suddenly and this all happened simultaneously at the start of “the season.” We made the decision to try and satisfy both aspects of the business as best we could with sort of a hybrid approach to supplying ice cream. In hindsight, I think all we did was piss off scoop shop customers and grocery stores at the same time.
We are now back up functioning normally production wise but we dug such a big hole that it’s taking us forever to build our inventories back up with the ongoing demand. We recently started a second shift that should be fully functional within the next week or two and we’re hoping that will allow us to catch up.
Unfortunately, time is not on the founders’ side. Paul Graham, vice president of business relations at the Better Business Bureau and a former business owner of 24 years, said that turned-off customers might be forming new habits by going to other stores like Graeter’s or Lula’s and buying brands like Louisville Cream while The Comfy Cow struggled to get back on track.
“It’s a tough one,” he said about winning those customers back, adding: “Without spending a whole lot of money on advertising.” He advised that the company take advantage of media to keep customers up to date on “why the product they wanted wasn’t there anymore.”
In fact, on May 3, The Comfy Cow offered this apology on Facebook:
We want to apologize to all of our loyal and amazing customers. We are experiencing some growing pains due to an unexpected rapid growth spurt. The demand for our ice cream has put a temporary strain on our ability to keep up with demand. We have a solid action plan in place but it is taking a little more time than we anticipated.
We appreciate your patience. Please hang in there with us and we should be back on track soon. We love you all and we’re so grateful for your patronage and loyalty. Again – apologies for any inconveniences you may have experienced recently when visiting our scoop shops.
A chef who once worked making ice cream for Comfy Cow chimed in on Louisville HotBytes to describe the meticulous process. “Running two machines at full speed production, with optimal conditions, and no issues with equipment it was possible for me to produce seven gallons per machine per hour on average if I’m remembering correctly. One run usually took between seven-nine minutes to churn and then another 20 minutes or so to package, label, put away, clean and reload the machine,” Bob Durbin, executive chef at Over the Nine, wrote.
For the most part, the social media response has been sympathetic, with numerous people saying that having demand outstrip supply is a “great problem to have.” But others have been more demanding, threatening to take their ice cream cone business elsewhere.
The Comfy Cow started as a parlor in the Westport Village in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession. It has since expanded to 10 locations in Louisville, Southern Indiana and Nashville.
In 2015, The Comfy Cow opened a standalone production facility in Jeffersontown on Plantside Drive just after the company started supplying to grocery chains like Kroger and Whole Foods. It hired Don Berg, a retired Brown-Forman executive, as chief executive. At the same time, the company also announced that it would be aggressively pursuing franchising options over the next decade. Berg no longer seems to be affiliated with The Comfy Cow team, based on his online profile.
Ronnie Dingman, head chef of the kitchen at Gerstle’s Place, who has a long history in restaurant management, told Louisville HotBytes’ readers that expanding a business is full of unexpected risks.
“You have a vision, you have standards, you have a system for getting it done,” he wrote. “And people love you for it, and demand grows, and people want more locations and more access. But you are only one person, or maybe two or three. So you can either stretch your resources too thin, or you can bring in outside help. Stretch your resources too thin and your quality and ability to execute suffers. Bring in outside help and you risk polluting your vision. Either way, you have to take a risk.”