Born To Scoop
By Jackie Boeheim
Brett Hillman is the ice cream man. For almost 30 years, he’s been running ice cream parlors, starting in Monroe, New York and then in relocating to North Carolina, where his love of serving ice cream could be manifested all year long. And after owning franchises for 15 years in the Triangle, Brett finally realized the lifelong dream of owning his own shop. With homemade ice cream, using his own recipe. That dream was realized in 2011 when he opened FRESH in Raleigh.
But this story isn’t about Brett Hillman. This story is about that boy you could always find through the years at his dad’s ice cream parlors…sweeping the floors, cleaning the glass cases, and, of course, scooping ice cream. (You could also watch him and his best friend play “Who can stay in the walk-in freezer the longest” – but we won’t go there.) That boy, who grew up right here in Cary, not only inherited his dad’s entrepreneurial spirit and love of cold, creamy treats, but also his desire to be an integral part of the community. This story is about Jason Hillman.
While working at the shop throughout his childhood and into his teens, Jason was always asking his dad about the business, whether it was family recipe secrets or shop operation insights. Even after he graduated from UNC-Wilmington and went into financial planning, Jason acknowledged his latent yearning to be in the family business. In 2013 he met his wife, Casey, who shared his entrepreneurial spirit and his love for Cary. Just a few years later, the time was made right for them to make their now-mutual dream a reality.
Like most couples that launch into business together, they initially gave into the fear of jumping in with both feet (in this case, all four feet). So in order to learn as much about the business as possible, Casey left her job to become Brett’s protégé at FRESH in Raleigh, while Jason stayed at his finance job. When they finally felt confident enough to go for it, they ran into one slight problem: They couldn’t find that perfect Cary location. But, they would not be swayed…they simply did the next best thing.
Here comes the ice cream truck!
While they maintained ongoing conversations with Cary’s downtown manager, Ted Boyd, and patiently sought downtown real estate, Jason and Casey decided to bring FRESH ice cream to the community by buying a food truck – well, an ice cream truck! So after all the preparations were completed on April 1st, 2016, Jason quit his job and went with FRESH full-time along with his wife.
Working corporate events around the Triangle, food truck rodeos, fundraisers, and private parties, success for the FRESH truck came quickly. And so did the capital for getting their ideal Cary location amid the downtown revitalization project – which opened April 1st, 2017, exactly one year to the day after the launch of their mobile shop.
For the love of Cary…
Their physical store is designed to be an interactive environment, with a beautiful countertop hewn out of raw hardwood that faces onto Chatham Street through an open wall. And the storefront mirrors the FRESH philosophy. According to Jason, “Our vision is to truly engage the community – Cary residents, patrons, and other small businesses.” And FRESH is doing just that, already forming synergistic partnerships with other Cary businesses and organizations. “All of us in the downtown area know that when we put the community first, we will all prosper,” Jason adds.
…and ice cream
The only homemade ice cream shop in Cary, FRESH ice cream is, well, fresh. Their ingredients come from a local farm in Dunn, and their recipe is proprietary. The Cary shop serves 16 different flavors on any given day, specialty recipes all designed by Casey and her father-in-law, Brett.
“Our brand is ‘one degree beyond makes a difference,’” Jason explains. “I live and work that way, and this is the message we instill in our staff. When someone walks in our door, we strive to make his or her day a little better. Plus, I mean, they’re getting ice cream, so that always makes the day better!”
Just prior to opening on April 1st, Jason’s best friend since childhood, Chris Couture, joined the business as general manager. Chris, an airplane mechanic by trade, already had a little ice cream shop experience, having helped Jason through the years at his dad’s shops…well, he knows how long he can stay in a stand-up freezer, anyway.
Chris is a huge help now that Jason and Casey welcomed their first child on April 27th – Declan Colt Hillman. And in just a few short years you’ll no doubt see that little boy at his daddy’s ice cream parlor, sweeping the floors and learning to dish out the perfect scoop. After all, ice cream does run in the family.