Last year, Tula McDougal and her daughter Christiana Barabe found themselves at a professional crossroads. McDougal’s 30-year career as a VP of sales for various houseware and cookware companies ended after a restructuring, which left her with no desire to return to corporate life. Barabe was working as a wine consultant until she lost her job, like so many others, during the pandemic.
They had long dreamed about going into business together, but didn’t know when or in what line of work. “We had always wanted to open a shop together and tossed around a lot of ideas,” McDougal says. “With Christiana’s background we discussed a wine bar or a charcuterie, but this was right in front of us. I have always made ice cream at home for friends and family.”
And so, Honeycone Craft Ice Cream in Chester was born. Featuring homemade ingredients prepared by the mother-daughter duo, the shop opened last October.
While quarantined together, McDougal and Barabe experimented with recipes. Using 16 percent butterfat as a base, they created different flavors such as coconut almond chip, sweet cream ginger, bourbon butter pecan and Madagascar vanilla bean. “We came up with 150 flavors initially, lost our minds for a little bit, and decided to pare back. But it’s endless,” McDougal says.
Despite opening during the start of the cold-weather months, as well as amid the pandemic, Honeycone caught on with a devoted local following, spreading the word further via social media. They have an evolving menu of handcrafted ice cream that changes monthly, homemade sprinkles, waffle cones and toppings, real hot chocolate made from melted bars instead of powder, and other scrumptious sweets like McDougal’s baklava. “Ice cream is what we are about but we consider ourselves a dessert house because we have a little more,” McDougal says.
They also added a line of sorbets and have non-dairy options for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. “We wanted people who are used to not being part of this experience to also be able to enjoy it,” Barabe says.
Every ingredient is thoughtfully and specifically chosen, and locally sourced whenever possible. For example, when it came time to make their seasonal non-dairy sweet potato casserole flavor, Barabe drove to Provider Farm in Salem and procured a big bag of potatoes. After baking them, she added homemade candied pecans with swirls of maple syrup from Anderson’s Sugarhouse in East Haddam. “It’s important to us to know who we’re working with in every capacity. It’s also nice to have a local connection as opposed to going to a wholesale place,” Barabe says.
In the spirit of giving back, Honeycone has partnered with two nonprofits and sells their products in the shop. They carry honey, mugs and pollinator seeds from the Huneebee Project in New Haven, which trains kids in the art of beekeeping. They also offer pastries made by immigrant and refugee chefs from Sanctuary Kitchen, a New Haven-based program of CitySeed that provides entrepreneurial training to these populations. And closer to home, Honeycone has teamed up with Sunset Hill Vineyard of Lyme to create a seasonal flavor using their Zen Blend vintage.
Honeycone is open year round, and while the line is sometimes out the door, it’s worth the wait. “Ice cream makes people happy and our goal is to make them even happier when they walk out,” McDougal says.
Honeycone Craft Ice Cream
29 Main St., Chester
860-322-3132, honeyconecreamco.com, @honeyconeicecream on Instagram
Hours: Wed.–Sun. 2–8 p.m.