JHU's sweet tooth helps Baltimore ice cream maker grow into a year-round business

Taharka Brothers, exclusive ice cream supplier for Fresh Food Café, no longer has an offseason, which means it can employ people in Baltimore all year long

Four people pose in front of magenta Taharka Brothers ice cream truck

Image caption: Demand from Johns Hopkins University helped Baltimore-based Taharka Brothers ice cream, owned by Sean Smeeton (second from right), transform from a seasonal business into a year-round enterprise.

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

It isn't exactly breaking news that college students like ice cream. But here's a real scoop: Johns Hopkins University undergrads like Taharka Brothers ice cream so much that the Baltimore-based company has transitioned from a warm-weather business into a year-round enterprise.

On the Homewood campus, Taharka's treats are so popular—even when it's cold outside, and especially during finals—that the maker of small-batch treats no longer has an offseason. That means instead of seasonal hires, Taharka now employs people in Baltimore all year long in order to keep up with Hopkins' demand.

"The sheer volume of Johns Hopkins' purchasing absolutely helps us a lot. ... Every year we're continuing to grow."
Sean Smeeton
Taharka Brothers owner

"The sheer volume of Johns Hopkins' purchasing absolutely helps us a lot," says Sean Smeeton, Taharka Brothers' owner. He also says the company's relationship with the university has opened the door to work with other schools and colleges so "every year we're continuing to grow."

"Last year, Taharka became the exclusive ice cream provider at Fresh Food Café," says Bill Connor, director of Dining Programs at JHU's Homewood campus. "Students fell in love with who they are, and they fell in love with their ice cream. We are finding that we can partner with a local company and even out their business flow by buying from them year round."

So it's a win-win—Taharka has the ability to make more ice cream using locally sourced ingredients from Cloverland Dairy and then sell their products not just to Hopkins, but other businesses as well. Connor said Taharka is constantly playing with flavors like coffee oreo and cardamom to the delight of students.

"Cardamom? I never thought that would go, but then we ran out of it on the first day," Connor says. "We often run out of ice cream when students are stressed or it's finals. So we do emergency orders. We have a general idea and plan ahead, but we never know when orgo is doing a midterm."

Beyond the tubs of ice cream and hundreds of daily scoops by students at FFC daily, Connor says the Taharka Brothers' commitment to social justice and civic involvement is a big draw for students.

"Taharka Brothers just wants to be a part of our community, and that's really hard to find in a vendor," Connor says. "Most vendors want to sell their products and leave. But I think Taharka is wanting to connect with our students and improve lives through ice cream."

Smeeton agrees that building a relationship with Johns Hopkins students and sparking conversations are part of his company's goals.

"The purpose of the company is to be a vehicle of social change," he says.

The mutually beneficial partnership between Hopkins and Taharka Brothers is one of several good-news stories emerging with the help HopkinsLocal, an initiative launched in fall 2015 to leverage Johns Hopkins' role as the city's largest private anchor institution and create lasting economic opportunities for the city it calls home. In short, the initiative asks university and health system departments and units to "think local" when they build, hire, or buy.

HopkinsLocal's goal is to increase spending with Baltimore City businesses, especially those that are minority- and women-owned, by $6 million over the next three years by focusing on specific purchasing categories.