Sweet Dreams: On Returning To The Place You Studied Abroad To Open An Ice Cream Shop
I met Corrie a few weeks ago while I was traveling in Peru. Corrie is a 23 year old American expat partnering with her boyfriend Alberto, a 33 year old from Peru, in their first business venture: running an ice cream shop in Cusco. The cozy location features whimsical “Urban Chicha” decoration and ice cream that is made to order. As I am quite the connoisseur of frozen treats, I was surprised that I had never seen the cooling plates they used to freeze the ingredients while it becomes ice cream. Naturally the atmosphere and unique product demanded repeat visits, during which I was lucky enough to run into Corrie. She shared a bit of her story with me during my visit, and then the two partners and I followed up when I returned home.
Sarah: Your ice cream shop and our conversation was such a highlight of our trip to Peru!
Corrie: That’s great! I love to hear positive feedback, especially because we opened in October and neither of us has ever owned a business before.
That’s incredible! With the reviews I had read prior to visiting, it seemed as though you had been established for much longer than that.
C: We were surprised too, which is why the shop is so small. We did not expect to do well so fast either.
When we met at your shop, you shared that you originally went to Peru to volunteer in the Amazon. Is that where you two met?
C: I studied abroad in Cusco in 2012. I returned in January 2014 to volunteer, and I came early to see some of my friends in Cusco. Alberto’s uncle runs the study abroad program I was here with originally. So I met him through his family in February 2014.
So you spent a few months volunteering and decided to stay to open a business. Was that in the works while you were in the Amazon or did that come to life when you returned?
C: It was when I returned from the Amazon.
Did either of you have experience operating a business prior to opening?
C: No, neither of us had owned a business before or managed one. Both of us had worked in some type of retail before, though.
How did you decide to start this business?
C: Alberto lived in Spain for a number of years. During his time in Europe he backpacked through Asia and saw the [unique ice cream] machines in Thailand. Once he moved back to Peru in 2014 he liked the idea of opening a place similar to what he saw in Thailand.
Once you made that decision, how long did it take to implement that plan?
C: The first machine was a pain to receive. He ordered the machine early June, we received it in August, but it arrived broken. During August we tried to fix it ourselves, since Alberto studied to be a mechanic when he was young. And finally we found a refrigerator mechanic.
In late August we started to develop the formula and had a number of taste tests with family and friends. We mixed a bunch of different bases and fruits to see how their flavors changed in the ice cream. For example: papaya loses all of its flavor.
In September, we started to look for a space to rent, which took another month to find a place that was not too expensive but close to the center of town. Once we found the place in Procuradores we spent two weeks remodeling the place: painting, finishing the ceramics, changing the lights, cleaning, and decorating. Alberto did all the painting on the ceramics and the pictures. So in all it took about 4 months to get ourselves completely ready to open.
That is incredible! With your unprecedented success, have you broken even from your initial investment?
C: That’s a difficult question. We have paid off everyone who loaned us money, but it was not from the money that Qucharitas made. Alberto also teaches at a university and he paid the loans off with [that income]. The shop is making money, though. We have some money in the bank which we are hoping to use to open a larger shop.
Already looking toward the next step, and preparing for it financially. That’s wonderful! Did you have business plan when you started or are you learning as you go?
C: We have just been learning as we go.
How are you making different budget choices now that you have your eyes on a bigger store?
C: For the new store we are just getting started. We have ordered new machines. And we are trying to hire a couple more people to have them trained in so they will be ready when needed. Alberto’s mom will be joining as an investor. And Alberto will invest some more money as well.
The people who loaned us money [initially] were not investors. They were just friends who wanted to help us out
Corrie, was living abroad something you had always hoped you would do or did you make the decision to stay because of your experiences and connections?
C: I love being abroad. I stayed in Cusco because of my connections. The city of Cusco is a city I really like as well. It is a city that feels big but it is small. I liked living in Portland, Oregon, for the same reason.
Where did you call home in the States?
C: I am from Minnesota.
Was starting the business a means to support your life or is your life more about supporting the store?
C: Right now it is about supporting the store, but the idea for the shop was for it to support us. Alberto is a historian and I am a biologist and neither pay that well. He really enjoys teaching but he also would like to finish his PhD. We want to get to the point where [the store] can run itself so we can work in jobs that we are passionate about and not have to worry as much about the pay.
That sounds like the dream! Can I ask for a moment about things like tickets to visit home and buying new clothes, where that falls into your priorities as you start a new business venture? You had mentioned when I met you that the quest for pants without [fast fashion stores] was quite the feat.
C: Everything was pushed back for a while. Originally I wanted to visit home last Christmas and then we moved it to May. Now I will be visiting in August. The same goes for my clothes, most of which have holes in them and I just get them repaired in the markets. I plan on buying some new things in August back home. The clothes all fit differently: in general things are too short for me.
What has been the biggest surprise for you since you started a life abroad?
C: Actually, I am not sure. I studied abroad in Cusco so I knew what I was getting into when I came back. But it is interesting to me how normal it has become.
Alberto, how many years did you spend traveling before returning home?
A: I studied abroad for six years in Spain then I spent over a year traveling over the world. So I can say almost eight years.
That sounds like an amazing experience! How did you finance that on a student budget?
A: In the beginning I got a sponsorship. Then I worked.
Forgive my bias. The United States charges an absurd amount of money for higher education, so I am in awe of what you were able to experience. Do you or Corrie still have loans from your college studies?
A: I have also a Spanish nationality, and Spain is not really expensive so I don’t have a loan, but the PhD costs money and I am currently saving for that. Corrie has big loans, so she is also working.
Does she work outside of Qucharitas as well?
A: Yes, she is working in a big travel agency to be able to pay.
How many hours a week are you and she working to support your business and other jobs?
A: We are going [to our shop] almost every day, I think over thirty hours a week. [Between each of our jobs] we literally work all day.
S: Do you feel like that is too much? Is that normal?
A: It is too much, but we have this opportunity so we have to do it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and speak with Corrie and Alberto. With creativity, humility, sacrifice, and a strong work ethic, they are carving their own path and working toward their ideal life.
You can find out how to get your own made to order ice cream on your next trip to Peru at the Qucharitas Facebook page.
This story is part of our Travel Month series, which we are wrapping up.
Sarah Feldstein’s favorite flavor combination was the vanilla base mixed with oranges and Nutella.