‘We believe dessert can change the world’
Published May 28, 2014
MADISON HEIGHTS — The Biggby Coffee on John R near 13 Mile is a familiar fixture in Madison Heights, but head around back to Civic Center Plaza and you’ll find something new — an electrical box and light poles painted in the black and white pattern of cows, and the entrance to Nice Modern Creamery, a new business that is separate from Biggby Coffee but shares the same building and owners.
Inside, the reclaimed wood walls and stools fashioned out of milk jugs evoke a barn on a dairy farm. At the counter where the food is prepared, spectacles befitting of a magic show unfold. With a whoosh of smoke-like vapor that billows out of the bowl and cascades across the counter, the ice cream is flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen, making for a treat that is much smoother and creamier than regular ice cream. This is because the flash-freezing process prevents ice from accumulating.
“People will be fascinated by it,” said Dan Bora, one of the owners. “It looks like a big cloud of smoke. People are drawn to it very quickly.”
Stored at negative-273 degrees Fahrenheit, the liquid nitrogen is a “green” way to freeze ice cream since it involves very little energy use. It’s also the namesake of the shop — “Nice” being a play on the words “nitrogen” and “ice,” in addition to underscoring a focus on kindness that includes a business model benefitting charity.
Bora and his business partners are the same men who run the Biggby Coffee in Madison Heights. They got the idea for Nice Modern Creamery while in California doing work for the Charity Cup, their nonprofit soccer tournament benefitting underprivileged people in third-world countries. It was in California where they chanced upon a nitrogen ice cream shop on what happened to be its opening day.
Bora said he and his associates had been looking to add a complimentary business next to Biggby Coffee, since they had more space than needed at the building on John R. Two years later, Nice Modern Creamery is now that business.
“This is not a franchise,” Bora emphasized. “This is our own original concept.”
A dividing wall will separate Nice Modern Creamery from Biggby Coffee, preserving their unique brand identities. At press time, Nice Modern Creamery was aiming for a limited-hours opening to coincide with the Madison Heights Memorial Day Parade.
At first, the menu will consist of a half-dozen flavors, with an extra flavor rotating in every week or two. The staples will include coffee, vanilla, chocolate, a gourmet caramel, a tart frozen yogurt, and likely a fruit flavor, changing with the season since the ingredients will be real fruit. Bora is also looking into vegan options using coconut milk.
The focus is on organic and all-natural ingredients, sourced out of Madison Heights or other Michigan cities. As the business grows, the plan is to add other features like toppings to mix in. In addition, the cones are made in-house daily.
“My partners and I have always been passionate about hospitality,” Bora said. “We’ve always been passionate about hosting people and making them feel good, and we think dessert is a way to create that experience. We believe dessert can change the world. That’s our motto.”
But it’s not just a saying. Nice Modern Creamery has a program called Cup for Cup, where for every cup of ice cream sold, Nice Modern Creamery donates a cup of fresh drinking water to someone in need in the world. This is achieved by donating money to Hope Water Project, a Detroit-based initiative building wells in developing countries.
Many impoverished countries have to deal with polluted streams full of waste from animals, and even then, they have to walk miles to get there, putting women and children at risk of attack from others. Building a well in the middle of a village solves all of this, providing clean drinking water for years to come.
And when Hope Water Project returns to the U.S., they bring photos, video and stories that they share with Nice Modern Creamery. This allows patrons to see the difference they’re making in the world. Bora is thinking of possibly adding a British-style phone booth or some other sort of exhibit where people can check out materials relating to Cup for Cup.
“I want people to understand that they are really buying people cups of water,” Bora said. “We want this to be a teachable opportunity for when you’re here with your son or your daughter.”
The idea of Cup for Cup was inspired by Toms Shoes, a company that donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair of shoes sold. A similar concept exists in World Clothes Line, a company that works the same way, but donating shirts for shirts. As part of their uniforms at Nice Modern Creamery, staff will wear shoes from Toms Shoes and shirts from World Clothes Line.
“We want to be in concert with other good causes,” Bora said. “The philosophy we all share is called ‘triple bottom line.’ The idea is you have three kinds of profits to measure at the end of the year: How you impacted the environment by not impacting it; how you’re helping your community; and the profit you’re making. That’s what we’re practicing here.”
And surrounding these good deeds are messages in and around the store that promote random acts of kindness.
“We’ll have clever posters on the walls saying things like, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’” Bora said. “We want to move people to do something good.”
Linda Williams, economic development coordinator for the city of Madison Heights, said Nice Modern Creamery brings something fresh to the city’s business portfolio.
“This is nitrogen-based ice cream. It’s not a new concept — it’s been done here and there in some states, with a handful in Michigan — but it’s unheard of around here. And this is a new twist on it, with an old-farm feeling. It’s a complimentary business to Biggby Coffee, and I think they’re really walking the talk with their kindness philosophy, helping developing countries with their donations, and even the uniforms they wear.
“I think the whole concept and business model is something very worthy,” she said. “It’s something very exciting to bring to Madison Heights.”
Nice Modern Creamery is located on the back of the Biggby Coffee building at 31055 John R near 13 Mile in Madison Heights. For more information, call (248) 588-1180.
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