East Coast native brings icy dessert to Sonoma County through Amy’s Wicked Slush
The list of food and drinks Sonoma County entrepreneurs have turned into thriving businesses that helped define our region is long: wine, beer, dairy, poultry, cheese, apples and even kombucha.
Could the ice slush be next?
That's the goal of Amy Covin, who two years ago at 55 quit her longstanding accounting practice and opened Amy's Wicked Slush across from Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach. Her quest - give local residents her version of what a bona fide East Coast water ice or Italian ice should taste like.
“I thought it was going to be a slow, sleepy place at the bottom of Healdsburg Avenue,” said Covin, a single mother of two adult sons who grew up north of Boston.
Instead, the results have been astounding, with crowds of up to 1,500 daily customers on a summer weekend eager to get their flavored sugary ice fix. Or there's the soft-serve ice cream and a few other items on the limited menu.
This summer, Amy's Wicked Slush expanded into Cloverdale and opened in Petaluma through a partnership.
And that's just the tip of the slush or the split, as Covin calls the slush and ice cream combination. A month ago, she hired Rob Daly, a highly regarded local manager for coffee purveyors Starbucks and Taylor Lane Organic Coffee to help her lead the potential rapid growth of her slush business. Daly is her first general manager and he came aboard to shepherd the ambitious expansion plans that include opening from four to six franchised slush stores by next spring.
“We have touched a nerve in people that goes far beyond having ice cream,” Covin said.
The rise of Amy's Wicked Slush in local business circles has been noticed and applauded by other merchants in a sector already accustomed to the rags-to-riches stories of other well-known Sonoma County food businesses. Recent examples include how Tony Magee built his Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma from his kitchen stove into a craft beer behemoth nationwide before he sold it to Heineken; and how Sean and Rebekah Lovett peddled their kombucha at the Santa Rosa Farmer's Market before becoming a top-selling beverage producer acquired by Peet's Coffee.
Hot reception for slush
Covin's already collected a big accolade for her slush company's quick start. After only a year in operation, the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce named Amy's Wicked Slush the 2018 Business of the Year.
Alan Baker, owner and winemaker at Cartograph Wines, said when Covin first hung her business sign on the front of the slush shop in the spring of 2017, he harbored doubts if she would be able to make it in a location that previously had housed canoes for day trips along the Russian River. It didn't take him long to become a convert.
“I have just been absolutely blown away by how it's been an instant success,” said Baker, chairman of Healdsburg's chamber board.
Even Covin said she was unsure. But opening day in May 2017 showed her the potential of her slush business. The steady line that day got as long as 60 people and she reached the inevitable - running out of certain slush flavors.
“Every staff member looked like a deer in the headlights,” Covin said, recalling those long opening day lines. Her team could not make mango slush fast enough, as every 3-gallon bucket that was produced was soon followed by a cashier shouting: “We're running out of mango!”
The dessert shop was helped by strong word-of-mouth support from local teenagers, since most of her workers attend Healdsburg High School. The popularity of her slush was amplified via social media. Instagram has been a particular fixation for Amy's Wicked Slush customers who post a picture of their colorful concoction before consuming it, helping spread the gospel of slush even further.
On a recent weekday, Lisa Walser stopped in with her four foster kids. She was hooked after she first sampled the flavored ice at the Sonoma County Fair.
“We are big fans. We are going to bring my husband back,” Walser said. She then snapped the smartphone picture, an action that is ubiquitous on the shop's deck: “This is kind of a moment in time. Everybody look at the phone and say ‘Wicked Slush,'?” she said.
Starting a new chapter
After 25 years in accounting, Covin said she wasn't driven to a career change by a midlife crisis or a hankering to do something else. It was all about finding the perfect slush, the type she grew up on in the 1970s served by Richie's Retail Slush & Food in Everett, Massachusetts. A trip back to her hometown a few years ago with her son was key in giving her the courage to follow through on her slush venture. Covin's son, Ben Shakked, oversees the mobile slush stands that have been popping up around the county.