Aerin Fortes, Contributing Writer
While out to eat at a restaurant she worked at, pastry chef Rabia Kamara saw a family eat the ice cream she created. There was a little girl sharing the dessert with her parents and arguing with her sister. As the youngest of seven children, the moment reminded her of eating popsicles with her siblings and inspired her next business decision.
“From a very young age, we all have this special relationship with ice cream and I don’t think it ever goes away,” Kamara said.
Coming soon to Richmond’s Northside is the city’s first Black and queer-owned ice cream shop, Ruby Scoops. After operating the business full time for five years, Kamara is opening her first brick-and-mortar shop with co-owner and production manager Emmett Wright.
Ruby Scoops landed its 120 W. Brookland Park location after its spring opening was delayed by the pandemic and issues with finding a location.
On Aug. 7, Kamara and Wright launched a Kickstarter in support of their restaurant. The response was immediate.
“Within the first 10 days we had met our first goal,” Wright said. “We saw that not only do we want to be here, but the community wants us to be here.”
Kamara said when she was a VCU student, she lived on Broad Street above Tarrant’s Café, which exposed her to various restaurants and inspired her to attend culinary school.
Kamara graduated from VCU in 2010 and later studied French cooking at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland — where she graduated in the top 10% of her class in 2012. After school, Kamara continued to visit Richmond.
“Every time I came down here, I felt like a little piece of me was here,” the marketing major said. “It made sense being somewhere that I thought would welcome me as a VCU alum and see me as the person that I am.”
Kamara’s decision to open the shop was preceded by years in the restaurant industry.
“I was really tired of the hours and of the way I was being treated as a woman and as a Black woman,” Kamara said. “I think it led me to grow immensely emotionally as an individual.”
Kamara said she struggled with managing her family’s expectations during her journey as a pastry chef.
“I’m first-generation American,” Kamara said. “My parents are African, so the whole idea of them moving to this country was not so that I could cook. That’s not what my profession was supposed to be.”
In 2016, the pastry chef competed as a cheftestant on Guy Fieri’s Food Network series “Guy’s Grocery Games” and Discovery Channel’s “Bake It Like Buddy.”
Kamara built Ruby Scoops as the business’ only full-time employee. She had planned to operate the shop alone, but said that long term plans, like her desire to start a family, led her to seek out a business partner.
The co-owners met at a 2019 Pineapple Collaborative conference, where Kamara was a panelist, covering women-led ice cream businesses. A couple weeks later, Wright told Kamara of their history specializing in vegan and dairy-free ice creams. Kamara asked Wright if they would consider joining her at Ruby Scoops.
“Everything lined up and was so serendipitous,” Wright said. “It’s so cheesy to be like ‘this is my destiny,’ but it made sense.”
Together, Kamara and Wright work to make flavors that they say excite their friends, family and community members. Ice cream flavors include lemon honey chamomile and vanilla chai. Sorbet options include pineapple passionfruit and gingered apple. Wright said the shop should be an experience where people “don’t get bored of the same two flavors.”
“Everyone has their favorites like vanilla and chocolate, so we want to make something that still has people’s favorites, but also has flavors that surprises people,” Wright said.
Wright described the ice cream community in Richmond as “very close-knit.” With the help of other Richmond businesses, the owners have hosted pop-up events to showcase their ice cream.
“I know how hard it is to open a business, much less during a pandemic, so I reached out and said, ‘Hey I don’t have a ton to offer, but I do have a space,’” said Alex Zavaleta, co-founder and owner of Charm School, an ice cream shop at 311 W. Broad St.
This collaboration led to pint pick-ups with Charm School as well as events with restaurant Soul Taco and beverage distributor Ninja Kombucha.
According to Wright, Ruby Scoops plans to open some time after the final phase of the Kickstarter campaign. The owners say they want the space to be welcoming.
“Most other shops aren’t Black or queer-owned, much less together,” Wright said. “It’s something important that we want people to know so that Black and queer people can come to the shop and already know that the people who own this establishment have their back.”