I scream, you scream we all scream for ice cream is the old school phrase that Ben Calvert and James “Auto” Ellis relish to hear as their new business strives to become a popular spot in the community of Bellevue.
“We want people to view A Sweet Spot Pittsburgh not only as an ice cream parlor but as a place to relax and enjoy a pleasant atmosphere,” indicated the duo glancing around the well-lit and colorful establishment with an urban mix of music flowing. With the flavor of an Internet café, A Sweet Spot toting the motto “where a scoop meets love,” according to Calvert and Ellis is a one of a kind ice cream place offering a family friendly environment.
|READY TO SERVE—James “Auto” Ellis, left, and Ben Calvert assure that the soft serve ice cream machine is ready to handle the customers of the day. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
In business for over a quarter of a year, Ellis said they have regular customers of all ages that consider their 16 flavors of ice cream and 24 varieties of toppings as a great reason to return. “We find that Chico Stick, Fruity Pebbles and cereal toppings are the most popular,” said Ellis. But at the same time he pointed out that they sell soft serve and hard ice cream as well as the typical items like milk shakes, sundaes, floats and banana splits. Slushies, Italian Sodas and a variety of ice cream drinks are also sold as well as Pepsi products.
Located at 3631 California Ave. in the same block as several other businesses owned and operated by Ellis and his wife, Lateshya, A Sweet Spot, open over 59 hours seven days a week as an ice cream shop and at other times exist as an entertainment venue. “The shop is available for parties and special events,” said Calvert. “The Minority Networking Exchange and several other organizations have held networking activities here.”
“We have held numerous events ourselves,” Ellis pointed out. “When I operated the Coffee House down the street we would put tables on the sidewalk and people would stop past as they were driving by.” July 12 they hosted their first “Jazz on the Block” featuring Soulyfe.
As a way to introduce the public to their business, every Saturday in August Calvert and Ellis plan to invite celebrity scoopers, noted people from the area to scoop and serve ice cream to customers.
Aiming to be a year around business, Calvert said A Sweet Spot will be an ice cream, soup and sandwich place come fall. Just another way that separates them from other ice cream businesses.
Not viewing an ice cream business as a strange profession for two African-American men to operate, their backgrounds make them a perfect couple. Ellis has harbored an entrepreneur spirit since his childhood. The owner of Auto’s Landscaping and Moving Company, and Angels Academy says as a child he sold candy apples and hotdogs from his North Side home.
Calvert is a pastor by trade and the operator of a social cautious website organization started as a tool to strengthen males; www.manhoodproject.com.
Friends attending the same church, Calvert says their relationship tightened as Ellis and his family experienced the tragedy of their house being destroyed by fire. “After many discussions, the conversation came up about us going into business together and I always wanting to have a male business partner. The space became available, we decided let’s do it,” Ellis said. “I saw how business minded he is, he has a great attitude, is a people person and he is great with his hands.” Using his skills, Calvert converted an old barber shop into A Sweet Spot.
Family men, they respect each other for their humbleness. “We have kindred spirits,” pointed out Calvert. Both are from the streets and have a similar path. Calvert said he was not raised in the church, came through the streets, and had no leadership experience and no religious background. “During a season of incarceration I realized I was tired of the street life and had to do something else. I picked up the Bible, began reading it and became saved in jail in 1996.” Now he attends Geneva College and has been a member of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church for nine years and serves as executive pastor.
Ellis said he too had bouts of incarceration, but not for long periods of time. His degree has come from the school of hard knocks and his childhood experiences in entrepreneur ventures. “Auto (45) is like a hero and big brother to me said Calvert (37). He serves as a mentor to many and uses his gifts well.”
A perfect example of his mentoring is through his four staff members, many who come from youth employment programs. “My philosophy is to persevere, to never give up,” points out Ellis. “This shop is a vessel to teach that as well as customer relations skills and that it is important to have a good attitude.”
His thinking carries over into their business. According to the partners, in the creamery business ice cream carries a rating between six and 12. A Sweet Spot rates at a grade of 10.
The partners confess that their aim is to provide good products and services. “We encourage residents all over the city to check us out, to stop pass and enjoy a good ice cream experience.”
A Sweet Spot Pittsburgh…where a scoop meets love located at 3631 California Ave., 412-415-1522 opens at 11:30 a.m. every day.