When Josette Russoniello was 2, she told her mom she was going to drive a pink ice cream truck. She wound up going into fashion design, but the love of ice cream never faded.
When the opportunity came to start a business with her sister Vinessa, Josette had no choice but to quit the corporate gig. The toddler Josette still lived on.
“I’m here doing ice cream so this is as close as we’re getting to a pink ice cream truck,” Josette said.
“We both went to college, had corporate jobs. I worked for eight years in finance and she was in fashion, and then we just decided to quit our jobs and open an ice cream shop,” Vinessa said.
Xena Marie’s Homemade Ice Cream opened on Route 130 in the new shopping center next to Brothers Pizza on Nov. 26, but Vinessa and Josette began the planning 13 months earlier.
“We just went for it,” Josette said. “It’s crazy, and it’s only been 6 months [since the grand opening], but it feels longer since the project really was a big process.”
Opening a shop in a brand new building presented a lot of opportunities to be creative and to be involved in every aspect of the process. The sisters were both were on site with the contractors and helped design the layout of the store. Josette did the interior design, and Vinessa wrote up the business plan.
“[Our backgrounds] really complimented each other to get the whole thing started,” Vinessa said. “Everything you see here we picked. We picked how big the tiles on the floor would be, the colors, the lights, the fans. We did it all. It’s a lot of work but it’s fun.”
While they were setting the foundation for their new business, they were also still working at their old jobs. Josette was a designer at Urban Outfitters, and would run out on her break to call companies for the machinery the sisters needed for their shop. Once the building design and business plans were drawn up, the creativity continued through thinking up unusual ice cream flavors.
“We created the recipes, which was a lot of trial and errors, being that we really don’t have experience in ice cream,” Josette said. “That was a whole other area for us once we got all of our ingredients. We pretty much have everything down now to a system.”
As the owners, Josette and Vinessa pride themselves on making all of the ice cream on location at the shop. Vinessa said they focus on ensuring quality and freshness, which is easier than usual since everything is made in the shop. That dedication is apparent in the way the sisters make their ice cream cakes, which are all made to order.
“We don’t keep any in the freezer, so you can’t come in and just get one because we want to make it fresh,” Vinessa said. “If you come in and order one we want to make it for you right then. If you need it for Saturday, we want to make it fresh on Friday.”
All of the ice cream is gluten and hormone free, and is made with all natural ingredients. The selection includes at least 20 flavors of homemade hard ice cream, soft serve frozen yogurt, a no-sugar-added option, as well as dairy-free sorbet or ice.
Part of their tight control of their products comes from wanting to make the customer feel comfortable about them.
“We are really focused on allergies,” Josette said. “We get a lot of different people asking if we run nuts through our machine. We do not run any nuts through our machines that we make our products from.”
With business picking up as the summer months arrive, Xena Marie’s plans to hold some events at the shop. On July 13 from 7-9 p.m., the WPST van will be at the shop with music and other entertainment.
Xena Marie’s is located at 911 Route 33 in Hamilton, and is open 7 days a week from 1-9 p.m. Phone: (609) 245-8254