An ice-cream sundae infused with Black history: how Rabia Kamara is changing the dessert world

Rabia Kamara from Richmond, Virginia is sweet on success after winning the Ben & Jerry’s prize – and her ice-cream business is booming

Last modified on Mon 25 Oct 2021 19.58 EDT

Business is booming for Rabia Kamara.

Last month, the 33-year-old co-owner of Ruby Scoops Ice Cream & Sweets in Richmond, Virginia, took first place in the Food Network competition series, Ben & Jerry’s Clash of the Cones. Her winning recipe was a sweet celebration of identity, aptly named “Bia’s Black Joy Sundae” – a medley of vanilla and dulce de leche ice-creams with Old Bay caramel, dark chocolate fudge brownies, and hazelnut toffee blondie accents.

“Black Joy has a lot of colors,” Kamara says. “There’s white, light brown and dark chocolate brownie chunks; it represents all the shades we come in.”

As it turns out, a reverence for Black community-building infuses everything Kamara does. When she opened Ruby Scoops’ storefront last November, the shop’s location in Richmond’s historically Black North Side neighborhood made the milestone all the more meaningful. “The idea of having a shop is that you get to become a part of the neighborhood and a part of the memories,” she explains.

Now, as Kamara prepares to open her second dessert shop in Richmond, the budding dessert mogul reflects on Black history, identity, and the importance of legacy in her entrepreneurial vision.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to become a business owner?

I think it has to do with not being afraid. I think intrinsically Black women are not afraid, but people plant seeds in our heads and then we doubt ourselves. I’m grateful for the people who said I could, because now I absolutely know I can.

I’ve been cooking for 10 years and working for myself for six of those years. Cooking takes a lot out of you physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s taxing to do as a profession in general, but extra taxing when you are a Black person, and extra, extra taxing when you are a Black woman.

I’m glad I pushed through the constant discomfort of working for myself, as opposed to staying in a space where I didn’t feel like I could be myself, I felt unappreciated, or I felt like I was going to have to go to work and deal with some form of trauma.

Now you’re getting ready to open your second store in Richmond. What’s the story there?

Kamara: The store will be called Suzy Sno, a concept inspired by New Orleans-style sno-balls. That’s a dessert made with ice that’s fluffy and not crunchy, kind of like Hawaiian shaved ice. You poke holes in the ice to add flavored syrups, then there are toppings like different fruits, marshmallow fluff and condensed milk. I fell in love with sno-balls on a trip to New Orleans; while I was there, I had one every day.

What does the New Orleans connection mean to you?

New Orleans is a very historic city that’s broken up into wards, so it’s fitting that I’m opening a New Orleans sno-ball shop in an area of Richmond called Jackson Ward. There’s a ward-to-ward situation.

On top of that, Jackson Ward is a Black neighborhood with a rich civil rights history. I’m opening Suzy Sno on a strip where great things have happened for Black people; when Richmond was at its finest, it was like the Harlem Renaissance of the south. I like tying the business to a place where historically, being Black had a lot of meaning, and trying to reclaim that and revive it through where we are now.

You clearly care very much about being part of a lineage and respecting those roots. How has your own family legacy inspired you?

Kamara: I named Suzy Sno after my grandmother, Suzanne. I’m a first generation American – both sides of my family immigrated from Africa. My mom lived in Egypt and Mauritius before my grandmother moved the family to the US in the late 1960s; in the 80s, my dad moved here from Sierra Leone and that’s how he met my mom.

If my grandmother hadn’t decided to sacrifice as much as she did to get my mom and other people from my family to America from Africa, I wouldn’t be here. Because of her, I know what I want to create for my own legacy and for my family’s, as well.

What kind of legacy do you want to establish, as an entrepreneur?

As Black Americans working in food, we see a lot of people who don’t look like us that have restaurant groups and hospitality groups, and all these restaurants making all of this money. And we don’t necessarily see that for ourselves. But I feel like Richmond is a place where we can actually do that.

I see Suzy Sno as the second step, of what I hope will be many more steps, in what I will bring to the hospitality industry in Richmond – for myself, and as a Black woman in the city.

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