For years, our family has had a Friday afternoon ritual. After eating at Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta, we head down the street to Ben & Jerry's for dessert.
In recent years, we've noticed big changes and improvements in the store. We found out that this Ben & Jerry's was under new management, with Antonio McBroom and his friend Eric Taylor as its owners. We got to know Antonio, who started working at Ben & Jerry's while he was a student, during our weekly summer visits and soon came to realize what an impressive person he is.
The first things we noticed at the shop were the new tables with umbrellas marked "Ben & Jerry's customers only." As part of an agreement with the landlord, they had the old sidewalk benches - where a number of colorful people used to gather - removed so that customers could comfortably sit outside and enjoy a scoop of ice cream.
But Antonio said that the first and most important change they made was extending their hours. Previously, the store would close at 9 every night no matter what. They extended it to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and to 1 a.m. on the weekends. This alone boosted sales by over 13 percent.
They also focused a lot more attention on their sales outside the store, like catering at ice cream socials and parties as well as selling at UNC football and basketball games.
The shop is also undergoing renovations, which includes adding an Auntie Anne's Pretzels.
As I write this, there are plans for a grand reopening today, Jan. 11, with free ice cream and a visit from Jerry himself.
Antonio said: "I really enjoy running a business in Chapel Hill, for a lot of different reasons. It's a very diverse mix of customers, students, tourists - a very fun atmosphere here on Franklin Street to work. It's just been a blast having a business on Franklin Street the past couple years."
When asked what could improve the Chapel Hill business climate in general, he said: "I think that there are a couple things that would really help, and I see those things already happening now. If we have more accessible parking for our customers, that would be great for every business down here on Franklin Street.
"I also think that if we are really creative with getting some more unique retailers in, more so than just adding more food, beverage and dessert places, more creative retail units in some of the vacant places that are here, I think those are two things that would be really good for downtown Chapel Hill."
There was at one point a long period in which we didn't see Antonio working on Fridays. We found out that from 2009 to '10, he participated in the Teach for America program, teaching honors pre-calculus at Southern High School in Durham.
The math major at UNC has always had a strong passion for education, largely due to the fact that his mom is an educator and has been teaching for 29 years. She instilled the importance of education in him from an early age.
He started out doing a lot of tutoring in middle school and high school. He found that he could take two things he was really passionate about, math and helping other people, and, as he says, "mesh them together."
While in college, he went to Cape Town, South Africa, and used his teaching and business skills to help people. He participated in a program called "World Teach," where he taught math to seventh and eighth graders.
He also did a program in one of the townships focused on entrepreneurship and business development for some of the local residents, where they took American candies and helped the students they were working with establish small businesses in their communities.
Antonio believes that teaching and business are similar, and he has a strong passion for both. He says, "I think that leadership is what's needed for both, and really challenges me as a leader to motivate and inspire individuals."
As much as he likes teaching, he ultimately decided to pursue a career in business so that he could earn a suitable income. He not only has to provide for his immediate family, including a young daughter, but since he was 18, he has been financially responsible for taking care of his grandmother, who is disabled.
Teach for America gave him the opportunity to use his passion for teaching to help students in underserved communities by teaching math for two years. Once his business has grown to a point where he feels pretty content, his long-term goal is to return to the classroom to do what he really enjoys doing.
For now, we're glad he also enjoys his work at Ben & Jerry's, where we can see him on Fridays scooping ice cream.