Staying Ahead of One Trend by Starting Another
The Konery Founder Kristine Tonkonow Is Holding Her Own in the Crowded Ice Cream Space
Premium hand-rolled waffle cones in a variety of flavors, using fresh herbs, spices and artisan ingredients
2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest “Alumni Choice” Winner
Brooklyn, New York
Kristine Tonkonow has been a foodie as far back as she can remember. Even as a little girl, she bypassed the toy ovens for the real thing, whipping up cakes and cookies before most kids could read a recipe.
Tonkonow always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak and an idea for a product that was like nothing else on the market. She wanted to reinvent the lowly waffle cone, transforming it into something more than a nondescript vessel for ice cream.
“You go to the store and you see nine flavors of popcorn, 20 flavors of yogurt, and all kinds of artisan ice cream. But, we’re using the same ice cream cone that we’ve used for the past 100 years,” she said. “I wanted to create a line of artisan waffle cones that you could pair with different flavors of ice cream, like you pair wine and food.”
She decided to buy a small home waffle cone maker and start experimenting. On Saturday mornings, Tonkonow and her mom got up at 6 a.m., loaded up a freezer with cones, headed to a street fair, and set up their booth. It didn’t take long to confirm that her unique take on waffle cones had a waiting market.
Her persistence led to local ice cream shops carrying her unique line of cones. New fans flocked to try all of the flavors. Media outlets, ranging from BuzzFeed to Spoon University to the coveted Food Network, began clamoring to do stories on Tonkonow’s creations. All of a sudden, The Konery became “a thing.”
Of course, growth takes money, which is probably why Tonkonow paid attention when one of her mother’s friends forwarded an email about the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. She entered, made the top 100, and then, got the call she’d been hoping for.
The fact that The Konery was the Alumni Choice — one winner chosen by former FedEx Small Business Grant Contest winners — made the win even sweeter.
“Knowing that we were hand-picked by our peers made winning the grant even more of an honor,” Tonkonow said. “I’m just so grateful.”
Tonkonow will use the grant money to purchase a new cone machine, which will double The Konery’s capacity from 4,000 cones a day to 8,000 — exactly what this small business needs at this stage of its growth trajectory. With a focused plan, and a well-calculated strategy, she is ready to take The Konery to the next level. To keep the buzz going, Tonkonow is introducing a number of seasonal flavor offerings.
That’s sweet success, by anyone’s standards.
Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories.
Here are Kristine Tonkonow’s top three:
- SALES: Make Sales Your Number One Priority
One of the big reasons for The Konery’s success is the fact that Tonkonow aggressively went after sales from the beginning. Tonkonow literally went door-to-door to her target ice cream shops and retailers, left samples, and kept going back until they tried her cones.
- CUSTOMER TARGETING: Carefully Target Your Customers
“I knew if I could get our cones into the best shops across the country, I could create awareness and consumer demand,” she said. Consumers started posting pictures of the cones on social media, shops started promoting her cones, and national media did stories on The Konery and its waffle cones. All of this laid the groundwork for a successful retail launch.
- DISTRIBUTION: Don’t Engage a Distributor until You Have Created Demand
“One of the biggest mistakes we made early on was going with a distributor too fast. You have to have a few established wholesale customers in a particular area before you get a distributor to work that region, or you’ll never get a second order,” Tonkonow said.