Owner Karen Soeffker is not your typical CEO. For starters, she is the Chief Experience Officer, because that is what matters to her, and because when it comes to experience, she has it in buckets.
Born in the United Kingdom, she was fascinated with everything American. “My husband Christian is from Germany, and since the day I met him 24 years ago, we have shared a great love of America. If that sounds unlikely, his father founded the Harley Davidson Club of Germany, in Hamburg. We even brought our Harley to the U.S. every year for a six-week road trip vacation.”
When Karen got her chance to work in the U.S., she happily took it, and soon she and Christian and their 1-year-old son Carl arrived in Austin. It was then that the mists of what would become an award-winning toy store began to coalesce.
Karen says, “He was a stay-at-home dad, and as Carl grew, Christian realized he did not want to surrender to the world of noisy plastic when it came to toys. So we didn’t. We wrote home and asked our family to send us some old-world toys.”
Soon enough, they were importing trucks, scooters and all kinds of wooden building kits. Then came a website for Exceptional Toys for Boys and a Facebook group, “All Things Kids,” which highlighted things around Georgetown for kids and families.
When Carl went to kindergarten Christian wanted to do more. “We came to the Square every Sunday and wondered why it was always so quiet. When I saw this space was empty, I started scheming. Finally, when the owners were ready to hear about my plan, I sat Carl down in the middle of the store with some toys, and he explained why the toys we wanted to sell were so great. He was a natural, and he was the one who really sold them on us.”
All Things Kids opened April 1, 2011 with big dreams and hardly any inventory, but they had the kind of impact that earned them the Best Small Business award in 2012.
Today, everything is still imported and battery-free. “We stay true to that,” Karen says, “but over the years we added smaller things that are easily affordable, and plenty of books. People come in just to hang around the books; just to be here. All of our books are hard-cover and they are a cross-section of the current top 100 titles, plus recommendations from parents, grandparents, and teachers. Books are the first building brick of experience; I love them.”
In 2018, she added a vintage ice cream parlor that provides not only locally-made—and very indulgent—flavors, but also candy, drinks, and a quiet place to read your books, or visit with the staff. When I asked Karen what makes All Things Kids special, Forrest looked up from his waffle cone and yelled, “Me!”
Needless to say, her staff are part of the experience as well and certainly contributed to their winning the Best Small Business award again in 2019. They are the only business to do so to date.
“We never planned any of this, but you won’t meet any more proud Americans. (Karen and Christian became American citizens in 2016.) And you have no idea what it means to have people appreciate us so much for just doing what we love every day.”
The Rest of the Story…
A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. ~ Proverbs 11:15
Karen’s business model is pretty simple; you need to go big or not at all, and her ice cream parlor is much more than meets the eye.
The ice cream is locally made by Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream in Denton, Texas. Karen says she chose them because she wanted customers to enjoy the Parlor experience, rather than buying a brand name that might pre-determine their preference for a sweet treat. You’ll notice when you visit, the names are written in ink and not permanent; creative flavors like Irish Rocky Road and Bee’s Knees. “We create our own flavors,” Karen says, “And we are open to suggestions. That’s the beauty of local sources. We’re looking forward to Red Velvet Cake with poppy seeds and cream cheese in March.” Beth Marie’s orders cream every Sunday night, makes up their exotic flavors by Wednesday, and delivers fresh on Friday, every week.
Karen also recommends everyone stop in during March for Irish Cream Espresso. Having personally taste tested that one, this writer can tell you, unequivocally, I wouldn’t have believed someone could “ice cream” that drink so perfectly. But they did, and I do, and you should.
Their ice cream is available in cups or cones but they make the waffle cones on a regular schedule, whether there are customers in the shop or not. “We need to make sure they are fresh when you buy them, plus it makes the store smell so inviting.”
It seems to be working for them too. Karen says they just celebrated the third anniversary of the ice cream parlor and can report 120 percent revenue growth. “I think it’s the environment,” she says. “We always have music playing and plenty of places to keep you comfortable. The staff are able to sit and have conversation, or you can read a book or look at the toys. It’s all part of what keeps people coming back week after week.”
In 2019, their ice cream was part of the Chamber’s Best Small Business award. “We love giving back and ice cream is one of the ways we try to do something different. We visit with Laundry Love and bring quarters and ice cream. Quarters to help pay for the laundry and treats to make it fun. We also provide about 60 portions of ice cream to Helping Hands of Georgetown weekly. It’s just how we decided to do business here in town.”
The Big Scoop
You don’t even have to go to the Square to get a taste of their ice cream. If you’ve been at the Christmas Stroll, or Poppyfest, or any of Georgetown’s major events, you have likely seen the Scoops ice cream truck. That is All Things Kids going mobile. “We filled up a freezer and went on the road,” Karen says.
“We took the All Things Kids concept and gave it its own branding to bring refreshments to weddings and other big events. We even include waffle makers to keep things fresh. I like to think that we just outgrew our space so we moved outside.” As the Scoops business has grown, they have added a trailer and are looking for more and more weddings and events to make a unique splash in the catering lane. “We are available for festivals and weddings and more, just look for the green stripes.” You can also find their brand at the Scoops parlor at Dell Diamond during baseball season.
The Soeffkers are currently scouting locations exclusively for Scoops shops. “It’s a really good model for places that need a toy store, but a parlor is just the right fit for many areas. We want everyone to have that old fashioned experience; 46 flavors, 400 different kinds of candies, and more. We want to keep it cozy and keep it close—perhaps Cedar Park or Round Rock.”
Karen is proud to say that Scoops has become its own brand and is eager to build that experience, indoors and out. So, if you want something unique and fun for your wedding, your bridal party will get a private tasting to choose up to eight his-n-hers flavors, including the “tipsy” flavors. She also provides two dipping cabinets and favorite toppings to make perfect sundaes. “It’s a great alternative to cake.”
So, if you want to relax in a yesteryear kind of place that is family friendly to the extreme, it also helps to remember “You can’t buy an experience on Amazon, and you can’t return ice cream.”