WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘Ice cream for breakfast is a good thing, right?’, I ask to no one in particular as Ajoa tops the waffle cone with a spiralled mix of creamy vanilla and chocolate soft serve and hands it to me. I check my wrist – it’s 10:36am – and take a lavish lick. Happiness in a mouthful. ‘Who am I kidding,’ I continue, ‘everyone knows that ice cream any time is a great thing.’ Especially this stuff: Ajoa’s ice cream. Four All – the stuff of legends around these parts. A regional craft product that’s right up there with the likes of Sauer & Steiner hand planes, Bartlett guitars, True North bikes, and Willibald IPAs. But I might be getting ahead of myself. I take another lick. No, I’m not – it’s really that good.
And good for you, too. Listen up. ‘When I started Four All,’ Ajoa tells me on this blustery Wednesday morning in December at her bright and beautiful Uptown Waterloo scoop shop, ‘I wanted to craft ice cream that would be accessible for everyone. People tend to stop eating ice cream because they’re told that it’s bad for them,’ she continues, ‘so I created something that’s made from pure, simple, local ingredients.’ Like milk from the Guernsey herd at Waterloo’s Eby Manor farm, for instance – cattle that produce A2 milk which has been shown (in papers by Purdue University, the University of Auckland and beyond) to be more digestible than the regular stuff, even for folks with lactose intolerances. Folks like Ajoa, in fact, who is lactose intolerant herself – and has no problem scarfing down her product.
‘Our partnership with Eby Manor is longstanding,’ Ajoa tells me as we settle into a two-seater in the scoop shop – near the cozy spot’s floor-to-ceiling front windows. In fact, before Ajoa even founded Four All (in a five- hundred-square-foot unit along Kitchener’s wonderful Whitney Place industrial strip back in May 2017), she visited Jim Eby at his farm to talk all things milk. ‘Ice cream is milk, and milk is ice cream,’ Ajoa tells me, ‘so when I decided to start an ice cream business I knew that the milk I chose would, in the long run, be one of the most important decisions I’d make.’ At the time, Eby Manor was about to introduce a line of yogurts and open its own farm store. ‘I visited Jim at the farm with my kids,’ Ajoa tells me, ‘and he was so kind and helpful. We ate fresh yogurt and talked about working together once I got my business off the ground.’ A partnership from the start. And close friendship too.
A piece of advice Jim gave Ajoa all those years back: ‘He told me that milk always tastes better in glass bottles,’ she says (which is so true), ‘so I should package my ice cream in glass, too.’ Which is what Ajoa eventually did after launching Four All in 2017. A fantastic, distinctive gesture, I’ve always thought – one of many great components of Four All’s inspired brand, which begins and ends with the ever- playful, almost-awkward cursive font of the logo that spells out the business’ name on all Four All packaging and materials.
When I tell Ajoa how much I’ve always loved the Four All logo, she laughs. ‘I know,’ she exclaims, ‘you tell me this every time we run into each other.’ I don’t doubt it. Designed by Waterloo-based Him & Her Inc creative agency, run by my pals Erin and Justin, the logo just screams exuberance and joie de vivre. Indeed, it screams ice cream (as we all do). And the colour palette, all muted reds and peaches and pinks and pastel hues with bits of pure blacks and whites for impact – simply delicious. I take another lick of soft serve. The sun, which had been behind thick December clouds, shines through.
‘My first big investment was with Him & Her,’ Ajoa tells me when I ask about her relationship with Erin and Justin’s firm. ‘Quite honestly, I was never worried about how to make ice cream – after all, there are lots of recipe books out there. My concern was always how to get people to buy the stuff.’ Succinctly stated – and, as someone who helps run a branding and marketing agency myself, I can relate to that. Products don’t sell themselves, after all. Great branding and marketing does. She continues: ‘When I hired Erin and Justin to brand Four All, I already had general ideas about the colours I wanted used, and the feel or vibe I wanted communicated. I don’t approach anything in life without a point of view. The magic of Him & Her is about how they took my broad vision and translated it into something tangible, evocative, splendid.’
Ajoa’s relationship with the hometown creative agency continues to this day. Case in point: when she decided to open this scoop shop as a brick and mortar expression – and extension – of the Four All brand, one of the first phone calls she made was to Erin for her advice.
‘She immediately made herself available for me,’ Ajoa says of the Him & Her co-founder, ‘and has been involved with the design of this space since the get-go.’ As have other local creatives. The brightly-painted murals in the space, for instance, were designed by famed regional muralist Steph Boutari. And much of the wood craftsmanship was executed by Adam Schwartzentruber and his team at New Hamburg-based boko. A group of local creatives doing great things together. My kind of (ice cream) party.
‘I actually never intended to open a scoop shop at all,’ Ajoa remarks, ‘but I wanted a place where the people who have supported me for all these years could call their own.’ Like Jim. And Erin. And Jordan from Legacy Greens. And Dana Shortt of Dana Shortt Gourmet and Gifts, the first local business to stock Four All. And Trevor Herrle of Herrle’s Country Farm Market, also one of Four All’s first stockists. Trevor, Ajoa is quick to tell me, is always just a phone call away for advice or to connect Ajoa with local growers who might want to collaborate on a new flavour of ice cream. ‘My mom always told me to get into business only with people you like or respect,’ Ajoa adds. These are her people.
And while March 2020 didn’t prove to be the most fortuitous date for opening a scoop shop, the place – in the heart of Uptown Waterloo – is thriving today. I look around the cheerful space. Beyond the glass front door (flanked by large glass front windows) are a cute ice cream counter, a couple of tables, a row of stools, and a large freezer unit housing all sorts of frozen Four All product. The shop expresses a single-mindedness – much like Ajoa. And it’s welcoming too – with Steph’s murals and Adam’s woodwork and a scattering of green plants warming the space. Behind the counter there’s the ice cream bar (of course). But there are also some newer Four All contraptions – like the aforementioned soft serve machine and also a commercial mixer and soda machine. ‘For shakes and floats,’ Ajoa announces proudly when I ask about the shiny appliances.
It’s past noon now, and one of Ajoa’s team has opened the scoop shop for the day. Folks begin to come and go – some for soft serve in a cone (like me). Others for traditional ice cream scooped in cups. Some folks skip the bar altogether and head straight for the freezer unit – and grab tubs of their favourite flavours of ice cream to stock their freezers at home. And then, serendipitously, Jim from Eby Manor comes in – looking for an ice cream cake for a birthday celebration. The Four All community is real, high-spirited, and always supportive.
While Jim and Ajoa chat I meander over to the large freezer to check out some of the flavours to-go. Five-hundred-mil jars of Chocolate Mud Puddle, Cinnamon Oat & Raisin Maple Crème Brûlée. Two-litre tubs of Funky Monkey, Coconut Cream Pie, Cranberry Sorbet. One- twenty-five-mil minis of Chocolate Truffle, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Bean. Vegan options too. Those are just examples; I could add ‘and more’ to every list. And, not to be missed: eight flavours of luscious ice cream bars. And that’s not taking into account many drool-inducing ice cream cakes. Banana Toffee. Confetti. Strawberries & Cream. I can’t wait until one of my kids celebrates a birthday next because I sure know where I’ll be getting the cake.
Today’s Four All is so much different than the business Ajoa decided to launch back in 2017. What began as a fledgling enterprise run out of a single commercial unit in Kitchener has evolved into a true regional success story. Four All’s Whitney Place location is still operating – but has expanded across four units (for packaging, storage, manufacturing, and more). A staff of just Ajoa (and sometimes her hubby and mom) has expanded to a team of fifteen – which doubles in the warmer months. An ice cream cart and tricycle (which you’ll still spot selling Four All products at area businesses like Eby Street Bodega and at events throughout the summer) has been supplanted by this wonderful shop. Plans for a second scoop shop that will land inside Galt’s mesmerizing Gaslight District development some time this year are in the works. ‘Scott Higgins has been wonderful to work with,’ Ajoa tells me, referring to the visionary President of HIP Developments. Another great connection.
Indeed, if there’s a common thread that’s woven its way into Ajoa’s ice cream journey, it’s the network she’s made of fabulous, generous, like-minded folks who have helped her along the way. This isn’t lost on Ajoa. ‘Our region has a helping mentality,’ she says with urgency and conviction, ‘especially when it comes to building a business.’ And while Ajoa is so grateful for the help she’s received, she’s quick to pass it on. ‘In my spare time, I’m a Venture Coach for the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region’s [or CCAWR] Lift-Off Program,’ she tells me, ‘where I mentor aspiring area founders who identify as black.’ She continues: ‘Lenore [of Kitchener’s Lenjo Bakes] put me onto it – and I even have my mom, a retired lawyer, volunteering for the association.’ It doesn’t stop. Neither for Ajoa nor for the friends she keeps. They create opportunity and space for each other – always, of course, leaving room, too, for ice cream.
After all, it takes a village. And ice cream any time is a great thing.
FOURALL ICE CREAM SCOOP SHOP
75 KING ST S UNIT 56, WATERLOO