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Business Profile

Brain Freeze

There’s a movement going on: the public embrace of locally produced, high-quality products over mass-produced items made by large corporate brands. Sometimes that movement happens in a very visible way.

“Our 13th and Grand shop is kind of a cool example,” says Tom Purdum, who owns Brain Freeze Creamery with his wife Julie. “A local company being able to succeed in the same spot where a corporate brand in the same industry had decided to close its doors.”

Formerly the site of a Baskin-Robbins, that spot is a second location where Tom and Julie’s creations are scooped; the primary being their flagship store, an early occupant of the Kendall Yards neighborhood just north of the Spokane River.

As a brand, Brain Freeze has been around town since 2000, but the Purdums purchased it in 2012. At the time, they each were also running a business: Tom owned the beer bar Jones Radiator, and Julie ran an in-home daycare. They thought they could do it all for a while, but soon it became clear they needed to focus.

“We were sleeping like 3 hours per night,”  remembers Julie, painting a picture that entrepreneurs can relate to: those crazy seasons when projects and dreams and businesses overlap. “Eventually, we decided to sell Jones Radiator, move out of the daycare business, and just focus on the ice cream.”

The decision has panned out well for Tom and Julie, who love being on the same schedule and having more family time. And now, family time happens at work, too.

“It's awesome having all three of our children working with us on this,” says Julie. “Nathan, 25, is our creamery production manager, so he runs that facility. Kathryn, 19, is a student at Whitworth and works in our stores. And Ryan is now 16, so you’ll see him scooping on our truck or in one of the shops.”

Aside from the family-oriented nature of the company, the Purdums love the positivity of their industry — “We get to sell something that makes everyone happy,” he says — and the creativity involved in their business.

Sometimes that creativity results in offbeat flavors like “buffalo chicken wing” ice cream, a small batch produced as part of their connection with Flamin’ Joes wing restaurant. “I actually thought it was pretty decent,” laughs Tom.

Aside from coming up with out-there flavors that the more adventurous will try, since acquiring the company one priority has been producing and preparing as many ingredients as possible in-house.

“Now we are up to about 90 percent house-made ingredients,” says Tom. “That means Julie is baking all the cookies and brownies that find their way into the ice cream, and we’re taking the fresh berries or beer or whatever and cooking it down ourselves, prepping it into a format that works perfectly and tastes great when used in our ice cream.”

Though labor intensive, the Purdums are convinced the flavor is better when the elements that go into their product are as fresh and local as possible. The public seems to agree.

“It's been good to see the response,” says Julie. Tom adds an analogy, “We’re in the toddler stage of this company right now, where it is growing and walking on its own, but we need to be there to carefully keep it from falling down, and guide it into the next stage.”

Embracing local has found its way into the Purdums banking as well, both personal and business. “We came from Seattle years ago, and we were with a huge corporate bank,” Julie remembers. “Being interested in starting new businesses, we felt like we were getting dragged down by their rules and regulations, and sort of lost in the shuffle. Then we found INB. We’ve been happy with them every day--it's like they are part of the family. They are always there to help and guide us as we grow.”

As a way of saying thanks, they try to remember one occasional detail when they go into their South Hill INB on 57th Avenue or another location.

“We throw some pints on dry ice and take them to the INB staff there,” says Tom. “We like to say: there’s always room for ice cream.”