LACONIA — Sometimes a little bit of distance can help bring something into focus.
“I went to school in Lake Tahoe and San Diego, and it really takes going away to appreciate what you have in your home town,” said Calise Houle, owner of Happy Cow Ice Cream on Union Avenue.
Houle, a ‘07 graduate of Laconia High School, went away to study business. She came back home before finishing her degree, figuring that she would be better served by running a business.
That business was Maui Tanning, a salon that her father wanted to open. She had grown up in an entrepreneurial family, watching her father run a glass and mirror company, so she wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of running a tanning salon on Union Ave.
After a few years of running the salon, Houle decided to make the business her own. Out went the tanning beds, in came the freezers.
“It just wasn’t the business for me,” she said. She did a lot of informal market research, and heard from many people that it would be nice to have an ice cream scoop shop in Laconia. It proved to be a good idea. Happy Cow opened six years ago.
“There’s a lot more people who eat ice cream than go tanning,” Houle said. “It’s definitely a lot more work than a tanning salon, but it’s more rewarding.”
When she went away, Houle realized how fortunate the Lakes Region is to be surrounded by natural beauty. She’s a hiker, and has been on a mission this summer to explore every trail within the Belknap Range.
She also realized, by getting to know other communities, that Laconia’s community ties are knit together tighter than most. By scooping ice cream, Houle gets to be one of those threads. She sponsors youth sports teams, collects turkeys for Thanksgiving baskets and gives teenagers jobs. And, of course, she has gotten to know a lot of people who come for an afternoon cone.
“We definitely have a lot of regulars,” she said. Happy Cow scoops ice cream made by Blake’s in Manchester, and has recently added a few flavors from Richardson’s Farm, in Middleton, Massachusetts.
Houle said she has developed her business by listening to her customers and carefully considering their suggestions. For example, she is trying out wooden spoons to reduce the amount of plastic her business sends into the waste stream.
In a few years, Houle might look to expand her business with a second location in the Lakes Region. For the time being, though, she’s glad that she’s no longer running a tanning salon – and she’s happy to be running a business in the same place that she grew up.
“We have such a beautiful area, the lakes and the mountains. It’s also such a slower pace. I feel that people are a lot more neighborly here,” she said.