Profiles, Off-Campus Profiles, Features

From Educator to Ice Cream Entrepreneur: Annie Park Founds Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream

In 2019, as Annie Park traveled around Southeast Asia, her mother called her to say she had grown tired of retirement. Less than a year after this conversation, Park and her mom opened an ice cream shop. 

“I now realize that what I do at Sarah’s Handmade isn’t that different from my teaching background,” Park, BC ’13, said. “I’m doing more than just giving my employees an hourly wage—I am creating a community, a sense of purpose, and a sense of responsibility, and this is no different than creating a community in any environment I’ve been in.”

Before moving to Bethesda, Md., at the age of 9, Park lived in South Korea. Park said she remembers Baskin-Robbins being a popular ice cream store there when she was a young child. Her mother, however, sternly warned her about the various chemicals and sugars that Baskin-Robbins used to make their flavors, she said. 

“My mom didn’t like how Baskin-Robbins ice cream turned your tongue into crazy colors, so she had decided that she was just going to make ice cream at home,” Park said. “She would cut out the colors and the sugar, and when we got to Maryland, she began making ice cream for neighborhood kids and birthday parties.”

In 2018, Park said her mom discovered that their neighborhood ice cream shop in Bethesda was going out of business and grew concerned the shop might be taken over by a national chain. 

“She called me and asked if I would come back home to help her with the paperwork, website, and the hiring and training of employees so that she could focus solely on the ice cream,” Park said. “I told her I would help her for a few months because my mom and I have always been there for each other—a sense of responsibility to the family has always been a cultural identity to me.”

In 2019, Park opened Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream with her mom. Right off the bat, the shop became a huge hit, according to Park. She said she remembers neighbors bringing their families and friends, a never-ending line out of the door, and a slew of  high school students coming in to apply for jobs. 

Park said her background in education has allowed her to offer a range of resources and assistance to the high school students she employed.

“I hold writing workshops and college conference sessions where students can conference with me and one another about their essays,” Park said. “We go over grammar, the essay itself, and any other questions they have about college, including scholarships and financial aid.”

Cecilia Debritz, MCAS ’24, worked at Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream over the past three summers. She said she has witnessed Park go above and beyond to help staff. 

“Annie is such an awesome person because she goes out of her way to do things for the staff,” Debritz said. “I wish I had worked there in high school because she offers college essay writing workshops, writes letters of recommendation, and even sets up interviews with David Weber, an associate director of admissions, for employees who want to apply to BC.”

Toby Carr, a current ambassador at Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream who has worked there for two years, said he is grateful that Park hires high school employees who do not always have prior experience. 

“Since working at Sarah’s, I’ve been able to make friends with my coworkers and connect with them outside of the workspace, which is something I am so appreciative of, considering how nervous I was [with] this being my first job,” Carr said. “My experience at Sarah’s has been extremely fulfilling because even though I’ve made mistakes, I have also learned so much due to the encouraging environment that focuses on growth as a team.”

In addition to providing resources for high school students, Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream also aims to aid and support its local community, Park said. 

“During the pandemic, we gave weekly donations to hospitals and to hospital staff to share with their families,” Park said. “If a customer donated, we would match it and deliver it to the hospital each week. We thought it was beneficial that everyone could enjoy a scoop of ice cream during a very isolating time.”

Park also said that working alongside her mother is a challenge and a reward. According to Park, she and her mother have learned how to divide responsibilities to best operate the business. 

“Most of her energy goes to the product and training the production team to follow recipes, while I focus on the operations, branding, marketing, communication, employee training, and hiring,” Park said. “While it has not always been a smooth ride, my mom and I care for each other beyond just a business partner relationship.”

Debritz said that Park and her mother bring a strong and positive dynamic to the workplace. 

“Annie is the epitome of practicing what you preach because, during busy shifts, she’s out there scooping ice cream and talking to customers even though she’s our boss,” Debritz said. “Both Annie and Sarah are so easy to talk to—they are personable and accessible and have such a funny dynamic.”

Carr also said he notices the strong bond that Park and her mother have and their passion for Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream.

 “As someone who is very close with their mother, it is heartwarming to see a mother and daughter working so closely to support their business,” Carr said. “I enjoy it when they are both in the shop because they have great communication skills, are direct about what they want to get done, and can come up with clever solutions and ideas together.”

In the future, Park said Sarah’s Handmade will continue to thrive not just because of its community connection and family dynamic, but also because of the all-natural and organic ingredients that it uses to make its ice cream. 

“My mom’s expertise is creating our flavors, and usually we have 40 different flavors at a time,” Park said. “All of our ingredients are natural and as local as possible—we use fresh milk from a local farm to make the ice cream every day, and we use sources like spirilla and red beets to have all-natural coloring.”

While becoming the co-owner of an ice cream store was not the career she anticipated, Park said the role has allowed her to implement her skills as an educator, give back to the community she grew up in, and build an even closer relationship with her mom. 

“This community helped my mom and me so much when we needed help, and giving back to the same community is a full circle for me,” Park said. “While I truly never expected to be in the ice cream business, I now can’t imagine doing anything else or doing this with anyone else.”

November 13, 2023