Getting the scoop on ice cream maven Beckie Jacobs

Serendipity’s owner Beckie Jacobs behind the counter at her Webster Groves ice cream parlor.

By Kate Gaertner, St. Louis Jewish Light

When I walk into Serendipity ice cream parlor, owner Beckie Jacobs is in the back. While I wait, a college-aged employee named Emily hands me samples of almost every flavor-unique hard-scoop ice cream with character, in flavors that range from a hearty Irish whiskey swirl to a light peach sorbet. “You’re going to love Beckie,” says Emily. “She’s like my surrogate mom.”

When Jacobs, 45, who has owned and operated the Webster Groves-based business for nearly seven years, walks out, I can tell instantly that she’s a mother. She shakes my hand, yells at Emily to put away her cell phone, and asks me if I know her son Jason, who graduated from Indiana University in 2009 and now works as Serendipity’s general manager. “”You look about his age,” she says to me. From across the room, Emily mouths, “He’s cute.”

After Emily puts the phone away, Jacobs confides that she actually loves working with a young staff. “When I first decided to do this, one of the things I learned was that to be successful in this business, you have to really like teenagers. And I do-I love teenagers,” she says. “I love getting to know these kids and watching them mature. I make sure I look out for them-we close at 9 on school nights because I wouldn’t want my kids working until 11. I treat them like my own kids, and the Jewish mother stereotype comes into play every day.”

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Before opening Serendipity, Jacobs was just that-a Jewish mother and the wife of a lawyer, whose sons Jason, 23, and Sam, 20, went to school at Ladue Horton Watkins High School and attended services at Congregation Shaare Emeth. After working at her husband’s law firm for years, she elected to branch out and open her own business. “I was looking for my own business opportunity, and I was trying to come up with something that I could successfully manage,” she says.

For Jacobs, who grew up in Clayton and ate hard-scoop ice cream at Velvet Freeze and Howard Johnson as a girl, an ice cream parlor was a no-brainer. “I like hard-scoop ice cream,” she says. “That’s my thing. I’m not a soft-serve fan, I’m not a custard fan, I’m not a frozen yogurt fan. And at the time, I felt that old-fashioned ice cream was what St. Louis really needed-we didn’t need another soft-serve place, we didn’t need another custard place. Looking around, there was no good hard-scoop ice cream in St. Louis, and I believe that I have filled that niche.”

Running a hard-scoop ice cream shop in a town that prides itself on custard and has recently embraced frozen yogurt may seem like a heady task, but Jacobs was-and still is-up for the challenge. “Yeah, frozen yogurt’s cool, and theoretically healthy, but I don’t know really if it is. And the trend right now in all of these frozen yogurt stores with all the stuff you can put on top-well, you just killed it,” she laughs. “In the general industry, hard scoop ice cream doesn’t react. It is what it is. It’s old-fashioned, it’s comfort.”

Jacobs’ ice cream, which is produced at a facility down the street from her shop, is made the old-fashioned way: It’s churned in small batches with no preservatives or chemicals. Serendipity features 28 different flavors at any given time, which Jacobs and her staff pull from more than 100 recipes.

When I ask if the ice cream is all-natural, Jacobs suggests that I use the word “wholesome” instead. “There are certain things in ice cream that make it, well, ice cream. And they’re not necessarily the best ingredients for you. So we try to do the best we can-we use the best wholesome ingredients.”

Jacobs, who confesses that she knew nothing about the restaurant business before opening Serendipity, took culinary classes at Forest Park Community College and continues to attend the annual Ice Cream Retailers’ Association Convention (which she refers to casually as “ice cream camp”). She chose the shop’s location-in the heart of downtown Webster-because she liked its feeling of community. “One thing you’ll find is that ice cream shops are very local,” she says. “The place I envisioned for my shop was a walking, downtown-y sort of area, a small town-esque sort of area. And that’s what we have, and we get a lot of regulars.”

And Jacobs and her husband have also found a sense of community within the local restaurant industry: Serendipity belongs to the St. Louis Originals, a group of 40 locally-owned and operated restaurants, and provides ice cream for dozens of local establishments. As for the most rewarding aspects of her job, Jacobs mentions this sense of community: “My husband and I can go and eat at the best restaurants in town and there’s a reciprocity to it. We’re all here to support one another.”

And, Jacobs adds, “I really, really love this place. I’ve been involved in a lot of things in my life where the people I worked with weren’t always happy. And when you own an ice cream store, you’re always happy. Everyone who comes in here is happy-and, well, that makes me happy.”

National Ice Cream Day

When: Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, July 18

Where: Serendipity, 8130 Big Bend Boulevard in Webster Groves

More info: Hourly ice cream specials available for one hour for $2 from noon to 6 p.m.; Silly Jilly, the Balloon Artist, from 6 to 8 p.m. and live music by Del Mar Blue outside from 7 to 10 p.m. Email Beckie @ serendipity-icecream.com for more information