New ice cream emporium in Lakewood Ranch melts together fun and whimsy.
For most of her life, Country Meadows' Michelle Noel had sold it all, at least in a corporate setting.
Yes, she once was a Bible saleswoman. She sold lawn and garden products, stationery and hardware items such as hinges.
Then there was wild birdseed.
She was making pretty good scratch, too, from the wild birdseed business, when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. Then her job flew away.
It wasn't like wild birdseed stopped being a hot item. It was just that companies selling that birdseed reevaluated the way they did business. Anyone who knows Noel understands why she would excel at selling. She has an upbeat personality and a smile that seems to transfer to those she meets.
But she also was a road warrior, a saleswoman who would visit your business and attend to your needs personally. COVID-19 sent businesses into long-range communications. Her company figured someone else could do her job from an office. Noel was terminated in June.
She was 57 at the time, and after a few months of unsuccessful searching, unsure of her next job.
"I've had similar circumstances in my life (being downsized), gone through a lot of mergers," she said. "But it always had been easy to get a job, usually in two to four weeks. With COVID, it was like 'who knows?' There was a significant loss of opportunity."
In August, Noel decided to go another direction. She thought with her savings, she could start a business. But what kind?
It definitely needed to be something that would make her smile.
"I was at a point in life, my youngest daughter (Julia) was 17," Noel said. "I started to realize I was about to become an empty nester. What would I do all day home alone? I was at a crossroads."
She drove around the area. An idea hit her.
"Why is there such a lack of ice cream?" she thought to herself. "Why hasn't someone done it?"
The idea for Wicked Awesome Ice Cream Emporium was born.
In January, Noel opened her new business at 4122 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., in the strip mall with the Skyline Chili. She opened her business with the pandemic still putting people out of business. She opened with the thought she was filling a need. She opened with hope.
Born in Framingham, Mass., and living most of her life in Derry, N.H., Noel has plenty of fond memories of family outings to an ice cream stand, enjoying a cone in the parking lot. It was a way of life.
She wanted to replicate that feeling in Lakewood Ranch, where she has lived the past seven years.
"Ice cream is a fun, happy event," she said. "People are in a good mood. Then you have all the kids. It's something easy where you can go in and get out."
When you visit Wicked Awesome (Noel said "wicked awesome" is a saying heard on a regular basis in New England), you immediately understand the fun part. The decor is kind of a mix between Winnie the Pooh and Disneyland. Bright colors pop all over.
Noel said she wanted her ice cream shop to reflect her personality. It does.
"I had to decide what I wanted," she said. "I wanted whimsy."
One thing she didn't want was a glass case showing off her 36 flavors. Her New England experience was eating the ice cream in the parking lot, being handed a cone through the window. Her friends and family convinced her she was wrong. She now understands here in Florida, people want to look at the ice cream.
What they will see is intriguing. Her flavors include Boston Tea Party, Vermont Maple Walnut, New Hampshire Wicked “Scorcha,” Maine Moose Tracks, Connecticut Mocha Chip, Rocky Rhode Island, and on and on.
She went to East County ice cream maker Lickity Splits, owned by Matt Eastman, and has her ice cream custom made for her shop. Eastman makes everything to order for Noel in small batches. She demands the cream in her ice cream.
So far, the public loves her taste of paradise with a cherry on top. The demand has forced her to adjust her workforce and she now employs nine workers, eight of them students, who she said have amazed and astonished her by their work ethic.
It's been a sweet landing after the pandemic crushed her career. Dismayed a year ago, she is now ultra optimistic about her future.
"In COVID, you just don't know what is possible," she said.