Dealing with Disruption: Clementine’s Tamara Keefe puts a focus on employee wellbeing during Covid-19

Original Article By:  , St. Louis Business Journal

Ice cream changed Tamara Keefe’s life — twice. 

The first time it happened was when Keefe was a child growing up in southern California. Her family couldn’t afford to join other families on Sunday afternoons after church for a weekly trip to get ice cream. So her mother purchased a $2 hand-crank ice cream machine from a garage sale. After that, the family established a Sunday ice cream-making ritual.

The second time ice cream changed her life was in 2014 when Keefe was running a $70 million business for a Fortune 500 company. She found herself traveling more than 260 days of the year. Keefe knew she needed a change.

Keefe opened Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery that same year and today owns four shops in the St. Louis region and employs about 45. She opened her fourth shop this month — during the Covid-19 pandemic — and has had to put a greater focus on the health and wellbeing of her employees. 

“We’ve done everything we can to keep them physically safe during Covid-19,” Keefe said. “We had to follow that up with mental wellbeing.”

Why did you open your first Clementine’s shop? I really got tired of making other people rich. I was traveling a lot. In 2012, I traveled 262 days of the year. I woke up one day, 38 years old, no husband or children, and I am never home. That was not the life I always dreamed of. I was that token female climbing the corporate ladder — the one that always said “yes.” I didn’t want to say “yes” anymore and I wanted to do something on my own. I came from a marketing background and worked in food, so it was a very natural fit and jump for me to go and start my own ice cream company.

You opened your fourth shop during a pandemic. What was that experience like? It was really scary for us. We were opening during an unknown. We didn’t know if everything would get shutdown or not, but I pressed forward because I felt that when we opened up people would need the connectivity and joy of ice cream. It’s that belief of how ice cream brings people together that drove us.

How has Clementine’s had to pivot during Covid-19? One of my superpowers is being able to understand the market, being super flexible and knowing what to do to pivot and be successful. We changed our entire business model right away — even before they shut everyone down. We do local delivery ourselves. Our shop managers turned into delivery drivers. We were the first ones to buy face masks for our employees and the first to put in plexiglass in our shops. We went from serving scoops to serving pints. I had to hire up actually. I needed more people in the kitchen to accommodate the instant volume we had. Our cost to do business rose. We lost about $20,000 a month for the first couple of months because I had to hire extra people.

What have you been doing to keep balance during this time? I am part of this group called the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and I rely on my fellow members to help with my mental wellbeing. It’s a group of entrepreneurs going through the same thing, so that’s my support group. My partner, Frank, and I take an hour every morning to drink our coffee together, or have breakfast together, and sometimes take a walk, and we just discuss our day and what our plan is, what we are grateful for and what we are looking forward to. That keeps us connected and rooted.

You’ve put an emphasis on the mental wellbeing of your staff. How do you do that? There has been a lot of stress on our employees. We do health and wellbeing checks on a much more regular basis. We have weekly meetings to check in. Phone calls everyday. We need to make sure they have an outlet and someone to talk to about how things are going. We had to become mentally protective of our team. We gave our employees and managers the option of closing their shops. None of them wanted to. That made me feel really good.


Title: Owner

Company: Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery

Age: 45

Hometown: Southern California