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Harvard Graduate Teams Up with Mother to Build a Thriving Ice Cream Empire

Annie Park’s life took an unexpected turn when she received a life-changing call while backpacking through Southeast Asia in 2019. Her mother, Sarah, a former deli shop owner, expressed her desire to open an ice cream shop in Bethesda, Maryland. Recognizing her mother’s need for support in getting the business off the ground, Park, a recent Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in education policy and management, reluctantly agreed to assist.

Initially hesitant about the idea of an ice cream shop, Park’s sense of duty as an only daughter to a single immigrant mother compelled her to step up. Sarah’s passion for creating unique ice cream flavors using only natural ingredients, such as fresh cherries and real strawberries, sparked the imagination of local customers. When Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream opened in March 2019, the response was overwhelming. Long lines formed, stretching until closing time at 9 p.m.

The immediate success prompted Park to shift her plans. Instead of helping temporarily, she became a full-time partner in the business. The duo expanded their venture by opening a second store in the D.C. area and is now planning to launch a third location in Potomac, Maryland, in December 2023. With a team of 35 employees, Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream has achieved remarkable growth, generating an impressive $1.86 million in annual revenue.

Park’s journey to entrepreneurship began in Seoul, South Korea, where she was born. Emigrating to the U.S. at the age of nine, she and her mother settled in Maryland to pursue better opportunities. Sarah worked tirelessly, juggling multiple jobs, while imparting valuable life lessons to her daughter. Park’s involvement with music and academic achievements led her to attend Boston College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music and communications in 2013.

Driven by her passion for education, Park joined Teach for America, teaching English as a second language in inner-city Baltimore. She later pursued a master’s degree in policy and management at Harvard University. Despite her background in education, Park’s interests shifted towards entrepreneurial projects during her time at Harvard. Following her graduation in 2016, she embarked on an unforeseen journey into the world of ice cream.

Park’s role in the business encompasses day-to-day operations and staffing, while Sarah focuses on creating new flavors and ensuring quality control. The mother-daughter duo distinguishes themselves through community engagement, rather than relying on traditional marketing methods. By donating ice cream to local nonprofits and organizations, they have cultivated a loyal customer base in Bethesda.

Moreover, Park initiated a leadership program within the business, empowering employees and fostering career growth. Rather than spending or investing the profits from the second store, Park prioritizes saving for future expansions. Her financial prudence has allowed her to accumulate substantial savings and investments, while also managing her monthly expenses.

Looking ahead, Park envisions expanding their ice cream empire, purchasing a house, and starting a family. Her diverse experiences, ranging from teaching to entrepreneurial endeavors, have shaped her present success. Reflecting on her journey, Park realizes that no experience has been wasted, and each has contributed to her role at Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream.

Annie Park’s inspiring story serves as a testament to the power of determination, family bonds, and a commitment to quality. From a chance phone call to running a thriving ice cream business, Park and her mother have proven that dreams can be turned into reality with hard work and perseverance.


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