Very Important Panther: Don Sargent ’98
- Co-owner, with wife Clarissa Morrelli, of Morelli’s Gourmet Ice-cream, a chain of three shops in Atlanta
- Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
- Member, FIU Alumni Association
What got you started in your own business?
I always wanted to work for myself. I started my first business at nine years old. I lived in an apartment complex with one trash dumpster that was a very far walk away. I used to knock on my neighbors’ doors and charge $1 per bag to haul it off. It became very lucrative. At that young age, I always had 20 bucks on me.
How did you come around to the idea of an ice-cream shop?
I worked at Larry’s ice-cream shop when I was in high school in Tampa. I was the owner’s right-hand man. I made the most money, received the most compliments and worked the most hours. That was 1989, and from then on I knew this is what I wanted to do.
How did FIU’s hospitality program prepare you for success?
The beauty of FIU’s hospitality program is that the faculty were all in the business before they became professors. Anyone can teach from a book, but I remember the real-world stories. The lectures were just priceless. For example, Professor Mike Hurst, who’s passed away now, would explain something in the textbook and then he would go over what happened in his own business. Here he was, a former president of the National Restaurant Association, had what I guess today you would call a pub. He was telling us about chicken wings and how he had a promotion to bring people in by giving every third wing away free. I thought he was a genius.
What innovations have you undertaken to keep your seasonal business strong?
Unlike in Miami, starting in September the temperature drops and our sales decrease. So to keep winter sales going, one of our stores is located inside a gourmet hamburger place. I’m looking to do more things like that.
And who comes up with the innovative ice-cream flavors?
It’s pretty much me and my wife with another 10 percent of ideas coming from customers via our flavor challenge. Sometimes we walk down the grocery store aisle and see a flavor combination on another product and think, “That sounds really awesome,” and we make it. Bon Appétit magazine named our ginger lavender ice-cream a top-10 must-try flavor-of-the-year in 2009. That idea actually came from a hand lotion. Every time people eat it they tell us it tastes like a spa—and it does! We have also made “Miami flavors” such as mango habañero. And in honor of my Brazilian wife, we rotate the Brazilian flavors sweet corn, passion fruit and the “Romeo and Julieta,” which is cream cheese and guava.
So what’s your favorite flavor?
My five-year-old daughter loves salted caramel, which is our biggest seller, and my three-year-old son likes strawberry. But my favorite is Almond Joy. It’s delicious. ♦
Photo by Samantha M. Shal/Neighbornewspapers.com