Tabor alumni can professionally cater a terrific spread of coffee and sweet treats, ranging from aromatic, artisanal coffee and one-of-a-kind cookies, to varieties of ice cream flavorings like the ones that helped make Howard Johnson’s “28 Flavors” a huge part of 20th century pop culture.
The latter refers to Alex Katzenstein ’05, Vice President of Operations for Star Kay White Inc., Congers, NY. Star Kay White started out as a family business, which nearly went broke in the Depression. Today it makes millions of pounds of flavorings for ice cream manufacturers annually.
The Howard Johnson chain used to be an important customer, he says. Everybody still loves the classics, like fruit flavors and caramel, but he notes today’s biggest flavoring category is what the ice cream industry calls “variegates.”
“That’s our name for what you’d probably call crunchy ‘swirls’ in ice cream, like candy pieces, peppermint, things like that, chocolate-covered almonds. We also make chocolate-covered waffle cones — we do a lot of coating. But the biggest business for us is based around variegates for ice cream,” Katzenstein adds.
The beauty of ice cream as a business is that it’s virtually recession-proof, he notes. “It’s a very American comfort food. People like it when they’re happy, or they like it when they’re sad. That’s why we survived the Great Depression, why we’re still here after 132 years,” he says.
When the Roaring 20s suddenly ended, the Depression caught the family over-extended, and spread out among several other businesses. The only business that survived was ice cream flavorings — mostly consisting of peppermint, vanilla, and chocolate at the time.
“I’ve always wondered if it was foresight or just luck,” that the family stuck with the ice cream industry, he laughs. “I like to think it was foresight.”
At Tabor, Katzenstein was Executive Officer on the Tabor Boy his senior year, a role that helped him with a recent leadership position. “I was just promoted to Vice President of Operations … and I do think at some level being Executive Officer of Tabor Boy helped me develop early on, an ability to manage a small team,” he says.
Katzenstein learned a lot of valuable lessons from Captain James Geil, the retired Master of the Tabor Boy (1985-2020). “If you think about the responsibility of taking children, really, out on the ocean every day, and taking them to Bermuda and all the other places, that’s a lot of responsibility,” he notes.
Two other Tabor alums are also in the coffee-and-dessert space, growing their family businesses.
“I always liked to bake,” shares Debi Lindsey ’10 of Marion, co-owner with her wife and business partner, Lisa Morrison, of Rolling in the Dough, a business that makes custom cookies. Most of their output is for occasions like weddings, anniversaries, and holidays, but they also bake for people who just want a dozen really good cookies.
“Friends and family were always asking for baked goods for the holidays, for events. So, I thought, ‘Would people buy it if I made cookie platters, decorated cookies?’ They did — somewhat to my surprise,” Lindsey says.
This wasn’t just a wild notion. Lindsey grew up working in and around a family restaurant, and she has a degree in hospitality management from Johnson & Wales University in Providence.
“I went to school for this,” she adds. The business was launched in late 2015. There have been ups and downs. For a period, Lindsey was an Uber driver and handed out cookies and business cards to fares.
“In 2021, we really stepped up our game, in terms of the artistry,” Lindsey says. For example, she can duplicate by hand almost any image, including a photo, onto a cookie, using a tool that reflects the image onto the cookie. That’s more labor-intensive than using a computer to print a photo onto an edible surface, but doing it the hard way produces a cookie that doesn’t taste, “like a cookie with a piece of paper glued to it.”
“A lot of decorated cookies look good, but taste like cardboard, so that’s something we’ve always had going for us, our cookies are soft, buttery, vanilla-ey,” Lindsey says.
She notes one Tabor experience in particular that was an early inspiration thanks to Jill Houck, founder of Flour Girls Baking Co., a dorm parent and wife of Tabor’s then Dean of Students Jay Houck. Mr. Houck now serves as a Latin Teacher. “When I was at Tabor, I used to babysit for Mr. and Mrs. Houck. She had a small baking business, making mostly bread for local restaurants — great bread. Every time I went there, there would be dough in the refrigerator. After I graduated, she purchased a successful food truck, and she started a bakery in Fairhaven, called Flour Girls.”
Quality is also a big part of the appeal for the Scuttlebutt Coffee Co., which is co-owned by Casey [McNamara] Cutting ’08 and her husband and business partner, Mike. Her husband didn’t go to Tabor, but the couple met at the School by the Sea, coaching sailing for the Tabor Summer Camp. “We definitely feel a connection to it.”
Cutting says she and her husband started working part-time in the food business as expats in London when they moved as part of his corporate job.
“Partly just to get out and meet some people, really, I got a job in a coffee shop on weekends,” she says. “I really just fell in love with coffee, with working in the food world.”
She quit her day job as a geologist in 2015. In time, her husband joined her part-time gig in a catering business with some friends. Ultimately, he quit his job, too. In 2018, they moved back to the States, to Dartmouth, MA, with the idea of starting what became Scuttlebutt Coffee Co.
They have a small location inside the Sid Wainer & Son Gourmet Outlet in New Bedford, and a second location in nearby Padanaram Village. Despite the name, the business also serves breakfast and lunch, and they also do off-site catering for special events.
Business is hectic, but good, Cutting shares. “We’re already almost fully booked for wedding catering for next season,” she adds. “It’s been a long three years!”