My Dad, Gerald Dawson, aka Geraldo!
I guess most girls think of their Dad as handsome but I remember this picture in particular because I took it. He had a great sense of style, a fabulous smile and was always upbeat, outgoing and full of energy. That was before the recession of the 90’s kicked in and he lost everything, home included, after 35 years in business. My parents moved in with me and shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. That was the beginning of a long hard struggle against ill health and trying to make a start again in business. Dad was absolutely determined to keep going no matter what.
I took the opportunity to start up myself in Largs operating a seasonal ice cream outlet near the Calmac ferry terminal. With a great deal of family support, Mum and Dad moved to Largs and whilst I accompanied Dad to hospital for ongoing treatment, Mum assisted me in the business. Two summer seasons later another shop came on the market directly opposite me. Dad was obviously feeling better around then and encouraged me to “go for it!” After successfully securing the lease on the property, Sugar & Spice started up in March 2000. With little more than a few £100 in cash to get going, I fitted out the shop with very basic kitchen units, hand painted them in bright candy pink stripes and tried to get really creative filling such a large space with well-packaged confectionery and holiday rock.
My Mum had always been in the ice cream business and started up ‘Caroline’s Ices’ in Ayr back in the early 60’s and I knew from the family’s previous business interests that I had to sell ice cream to make the business work long term. Largs has a strong history of Italian ice cream families and the Nardini name is known all over the world. Equipment is hugely expensive and there was no way I could afford to buy. What chance did I have with so much going against me?I contacted several suppliers to see who could loan a display cabinet and supply me with good quality ice cream. The Orkney Creamery was a family business like ours and their wonderfully creamy ice cream was just what I wanted. It was a small cabinet to begin with, 8 flavours I recall, and situated inside the shop. Knowing that ice cream is an impulse buy, I knew the cabinet had to be within eyesight of passing customers if it was going to work so after the first season I submitted a planning application to open up one of my front windows so that the ice cream could be served directly onto the street. What a difference that made! Three years on and the Orkney Creamery could no longer keep up with demand and they told me at the end of that summer they could no longer supply me. It was a real blow at the time but sometimes you don’t realise that a seemingly bad situation is really an opportunity in disguise.
Dad was hugely supportive but his health took a turn for the worse. Mum and I continued to look after him at home with nurses, doctors and round the clock medication all part of the daily routine for several months. I always remember him saying “Take control and go for it kiddo!” So I did!
Mum and I enrolled in training courses with Carpigiani’s Gelato University, travelled to Hereford to study recipe formulation and research ice cream making equipment and, within 6 months during the quieter winter season, I remortgaged my home, borrowed every penny I could on credit cards and set up my own production unit at the back of my shop. It also happens to be the smallest production unit in Scotland but you’d be amazed at what comes out of it.
Dad was terminally ill at that point but was constantly asking how it was all going. I contacted one of the best graphic designers I know, Derek Goodchild at Ocean Agency, and asked him to create a logo for my new ice cream brand.
My Dad was a very good footballer and won 5 caps for the Scottish Showmen's International Football League He was spotted by a talent scout who wanted to sign him to play professionally for Preston North End. Faced with choosing between this fantastic opportunity and his commitment to the family business at that time my Dad decided to give up any notion of a professional career in football. He continued to play for the SSIFL and everyone who played with him and against him likened him to one of the world’s best Brazilian football players at that time, Geraldo Jose da Silva. Everyone knew my Dad as Geraldo and so…
Geraldo’s Luxury Ice Cream was born!
My newly branded cabinet was installed in the Spring of 2005 along with branded tubs, napkins and wafers and another ice cream season was upon us. On Father’s Day 2005, I nipped home to check on Dad and tell him we’d just had a power cut and all my ice cream was melting in the middle of a busy, hot and sunny, Sunday afternoon. Mum was in the shop giving it away. Why waste good ice cream and what a great marketing opportunity that turned out to be. He settled back down, smiled and passed away later that night.
There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think of him and the inspiration that he was to me and every day the sun’s shining brightly in Largs there’s nowhere I would rather be than scooping and serving my award-winning ice cream to the visitors and hearing them say Geraldo’s is the best ice cream in Largs.
Incidentally, my Mum affectionately called my Dad Gerry Berry. That’s now my signature flavour – Classic Vanilla rippled with Amarena Cherries soaked in Kirsch and Balsamic Vinegar. Dad would’ve loved it!!