The Non-Conformity of
Sweet Action Ice Cream

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Sweet Action Ice Cream exterior

There’s a passion for ice cream. Period. It’s its own thing. But there’s also a passion and enthusiasm for doing something that’s yours. And doing it the right way. Ice cream just becomes the vessel for that.

-Chia Basinger-

When Chia Basinger and Sam Kopicko moved to Denver five years ago, they had all of the ingredients necessary for starting their own business: independent spirits, an eye for opportunity, a willingness to experiment, and most importantly, a passion for creating something unique.

“We’ve always wanted to do our own thing, run our own business. We moved here with an intention of doing something of our own, we just didn’t know what yet,” says Chia.

That “thing” would turn out to be Sweet Action Ice Cream, located on South Broadway in Denver.

“There’s a passion for ice cream. Period. It’s its own thing. But there’s also a passion and enthusiasm for doing something that’s yours. And doing it the right way. Ice cream just becomes the vessel for that,” says Chia.

Leaning into their roots, Chia says the lessons he and Sam picked up from the punk rock community they were a part of as teenagers (in separate parts of the country) plays a big part of how they approach what they do at Sweet Action Ice Cream.

“Back then, it was a lot of work to see a show. There was no internet. You had to get out and talk to people. It was all handbills and zines. The level of work you had to put in weeded people out. Those who made that music and went to shows were committed to it. That’s a foundation we’re both built on – “This is how I want to do it. Everything is a possibility. No one will tell me no.””

When it came time to opening their own ice cream shop, there was no doubt they could do it.

“There was an intuitive factor of us being here, thinking it would work in our neighborhood, and that we could pull it off. But it’s also about putting in the hard work and making a commitment. Some might say we did the right thing in the right spot at the right time…we certainly benefitted from that. But we didn’t have demo studies, and spreadsheets, and charts. We intuitively believed we could do it, thought it would work, and just tried it.”

That hard work and dedication to quality has become a cornerstone of Sweet Action’s success – even it if means paying a little more for ingredients or approaching staffing differently than most businesses.

Sam and Chia’s model is simple: make something of the highest quality you’re capable of and charge customers a little more than it cost you to make it. And don’t be a jerk about it.

“So many shops use the cheapest ingredients and charge twice as much as us. Part of it is coming to whatever you do with a sense of integrity,” says Chia. “That pretty much covers everything I’ve ever done. That mindset is the baseline. When you have that baseline, you’re not having to re-legislate every decision.”

slicing peaches at Sweet Action Ice CreamThat baseline of integrity drives every decision – from running the building on wind power to using eco-friendly serving containers to the way they hire employees.

From the very beginning, Chia says he and Sam knew they were looking for people whose personalities fit their own values and could help shape Sweet Action’s culture.

“Our job application isn’t boilerplate stuff. We’re not that interested in your work history because it doesn’t tell us much about you.”

Instead, Sam and Chia have created an application structured around finding personality. In addition to the standard, required information, it asks questions about your favorite state, the best show you’ve ever been to, and whether you can name two prime numbers.

One particular applicant comes to mind for Chia. “We had a question along the lines of, “Who is the President of the United States?” The applicant had written “Barack Obama” but then crossed it out and wrote “Henry Rollins.”

“I knew we had to talk to her.”

Sharing their passion with people of like mind is clearly a winning strategy. Not only do Sweet Action’s customers love their commitment to experimentation and quality ingredients, but employees stick around longer than most. Six of the original employees still work there. That’s pretty impressive given the high rate of turnover in the industry.

“When we bring people in like that, we end up with people who love what they do. There are a lot of things we can teach people – scooping ice cream, stocking ingredients, running the cash register. What I can’t teach someone is how to work hard, show up on time for all shifts, and how to take pride in their work.”

“We’re lucky to be able to do what we do. It’s a fine model in and of itself. We didn’t plan this, but we learned to approach it with hard work and commitment. If that seems to not work – for whatever reason – then we’ll adjust.”

Sweet Action Ice Cream is located at 52 Broadway in Denver, Colorado.
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