'Quality is paramount': Burnstown business winning people over one scoop at a time

Laurent Coulibaly, owner of Laurent's Ice Cream and Cafe, in front of his cafe in Burnstown. (Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

By: Yona Harvey, Smiths Falls Record News

When a five-year-old boy comes back with flowers as a thank you gift for making great ice cream, you know you’ve made it. Laurent Coulibaly, owner of Laurent’s Ice Cream and Café in Burnstown, tells the story with laughter and pride in his voice.

Laurent’s Ice Cream and Café sells more than a dozen house-made ice cream flavours such as chocolate, vanilla and cookie dough, and specialty flavours which include space monkey, rum and raisin, blue corn, mooseback and pistachio.

He also has dairy free and vegan options, as well as macarons and other baked goods, which might explain why people come from far and wide to visit his café.

A geologist by trade, Coulibaly, who has a master’s degree in Mineral Exploration from Queen’s University, didn’t plan on opening an ice cream store. However, when they purchased the storefront five years ago, it came with almost brand-new ice cream making equipment.

He decided to learn how to make ice cream.

Coulibaly signed up for a one-week course at the University of Guelph, one of the few places in the world teaching Ice Cream Science and Technology. “I was surprised to see people of all ages from all over the world — Asia, Japan, Finland and the United States — in my class,” Coulibaly said.

He learned the techniques for making small and large batches of ice cream, but he wanted to focus on the quality. Coulibaly said a lot of what he learned was mostly oriented toward industrial production.

“I didn’t like the idea of (making ice cream) just to make money and not looking at the quality. Quality is paramount for me,” he said. “I wanted to do something very simple, very basic.”

He explained how ice cream in grocery stores is manufactured to be shelf stable for two years. “Where can you find food that will stay good (for that long)? You have to add a lot of preservatives,” he said.

Coulibaly said he is willing to put in the hard work of making ice cream every day; he knows it will taste good and “has no dirt (preservatives)”.

“Ice cream is a science. Everything has to be balanced. You need to make your calculation properly before you make ice cream. Once you know how to do that you can add fancy things,” he said.

Coulibaly grew up in Burkina Faso in Africa. He described his childhood, and his home country as a happy place. He graduated from University of Ouagadougou, worked in his country for a few years, and was hired by Orezone Gold Corporation in Ottawa in 2007. He is currently the managing director for Kansc Consulting Limited.

As an ice cream store owner, the first few years were particularly challenging for Coulibaly, since he had to deal with bias and prejudice. Some people have told him “we are watching you,” he said.

“I had a hard time. I believe it was because (most people) didn’t know me, they didn’t know which (political) party I was behind, who was financing the business. This (store) was my personal investment. I don’t do politics,” he added.

He talks about the struggle almost every immigrant faces in Canada: “Even if you have the highest diploma they won’t let you in. You have to fight to make your own space, if you don’t, you’re lost.”

Coulibaly revealed that his other challenge was hiring staff. “If I were in Burkina Faso, I’d have a lineup of people wanting to work here. Even just for cleaning, cutting the grass, or washing the dishes.” But here in Canada, “I cut the grass myself, do the dishes myself,” he said.

He is confident that with more staff, he could open a few more days, instead of only being open Thursday to Sunday.

This year marks Laurent’s Ice Cream and Café’s fifth year of operations, and just when things were running smoothly, the pandemic struck. Coulibaly doesn’t mind too much, though, as he finally had time to develop techniques for making his own waffle cone.

“Before the lockdown I was buying waffle mix from the United States, paying for customs and shipping. There was no place in Canada you can buy a mix for waffle cone. But now I can make my own fancy waffle cones: ginger, vanilla and all kinds of cones,” he added.

These days, Coulibaly acknowledges that “the same people who fought me before are now buying ice cream from me every day.” Another customer came back to thank him and said, “We’re happy to see you doing this job here in Burnstown."

It would appear that with good quality, great tasting ice cream, you can win over just about anyone, one scoop at a time.

Laurent’s Ice Cream and Café is located at 1716 Calabogie Road, Burnstown, Ontario. For more information, visit https://cafelaurent.ca/ or call 613-432-3535.

This story is part of a series, Diverse Voices, to highlight business owners in our community who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour. The series is part of our commitment to improve diversity in the content we produce.