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The ah-ha moment for Ruby Scoops Ice Cream & Sweets founder Rabia Kamara began with tears. “There was a family that had these two little girls, and the parents had given each girl one ice cream scoop. One of the little girls got distracted, as children do, and her sister ate both of the scoops of ice cream. She [the little girl] straight up lost it, had a full-on tantrum,” recalls Kamara about an event that happened earlier in her career when she was creating desserts, specifically her uniquely flavored ice creams, for a restaurant.
“Even though that little girl was very upset because her sister ate her ice cream…They are going to talk about this at some point in their adult lives. And it went off in my brain; ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to make ice cream.’”
Building bonds and making memories with the foods we enjoy is at the heart of what motivates the Silver Spring, Maryland, native to create the special ice cream flavors and desserts offered at her Richmond, Virginia, shop.
“Typically having ice cream is a very happy moment; there’s so much nostalgia around desserts and joy around it,” observes the formally trained chef who won the first season of the Food Network’s “Ben & Jerry’s Clash of the Cones” ice cream making competition.
Here, Cuisine Noir sat down with the “Ice Cream Lady,” as Kamara is popularly known in Richmond, to get a taste of the inspiration behind the ever-changing deliciousness she serves at her colorful, selfie-worthy shop.
What’s the story behind the Ruby Scoops name for your ice cream shop?
When I was a child, people could never say my name right. And I got tired of correcting people. So I said, “Call me Ruby.” My sister found out about that and started blackmailing me, “I’m going to tell mama and daddy people are calling you something else.”
And I finally said, “Whatever, just tell them.” So, she jokingly calls me Ruby and has done so most of my life. And that’s where the name came from.
How did your love for ice cream come to be?
I’ve always enjoyed desserts and started baking at a really young age. When I was eight or nine, my mother had given me a Mrs. Fields cookbook, and that’s when I understood that people could turn their hobbies into businesses.
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I told my parents [that’s what I wanted to do], but their idea of the American dream was different. Cooking was a hobby and not necessarily what you do for work. So I did what was expected of me; graduated from high school, went to college. I came to Richmond to attend Virginia Commonwealth University. And my time away from home really allowed me to explore what I was passionate about—which was still food.
I was preparing to go to law school, based on what my parents wanted me to do, and I woke up one day and said, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wishing I had done something differently.” So, I decided to go to culinary school. While I was in culinary school, we had a day where we learned to make ice cream. I think what really jumped out at me about ice cream was as long as it froze, anything can be ice cream. And that allows me to be as artistically creative as I want because there’s so much room and space for flavors and creativity.
Speaking of creativity, what are some of the more imaginative flavors you’ve dreamed up for?
I did a series of flavors for Black History Month that were based on individuals who had contributed to American cuisine…like for George Washington Carver. I did a peanut butter flavor. Moving toward Juneteenth, I do a Jubilee Punch and that is a watermelon and Kool-Aid sorbet. A lot of the times, it’s in support of the culture and other times, it’s just what I want to eat!
Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
I am personally a big strawberry ice cream person. I don’t really care for most fruity ice creams, but I love strawberry ice cream.
How many ice cream flavors does Ruby Scoops offer year-round?
Right now, we offer 12 [flavors] at a time. And on the ice cream truck, we normally do four flavors at a time.
What do you think makes Ruby Scoops unique?
I think what makes it different is my affinity for flavors. And, I think we’re one of a handful of scratch-made, Black-owned shops in the nation. So we make all our own ice creams and use local dairies.
The things we don’t make are sprinkles, whipped cream and Oreos—everything else we do. We have ice creams (we have non-dairy ice creams) too, sorbets, milkshakes, fruit slushies, cookies, ice cream sandwiches, sundaes and we offer ice cream “flights” so you can come in and have six little scoops.
What plans do you have for taking Ruby Scoops to the next level?
We’re actually moving into a new space because we have outgrown our current one. So we’re moving into a fully custom-built space either at the end of this year or next year. It’s just a few blocks down from where we are right now, but it’s much bigger… We are opening up a Maryland location in 2024-2025. The goal is to have multiple locations over time. But I’m getting married this fall, so I’m going to spend some time investing in my personal life.
What is it that gives you the most satisfaction in your career?
Some people tell me, “I was having a really bad day and I came in and I had some ice cream. It was so good and made me feel so much better.” I just really enjoy hearing I’m making people happy. I wanted to do something that was going to make people happy—even if it was just through one scoop of ice cream.