Most ice cream pints display little more than nutritional information and ingredients, but Amore Congelato founder Thereasa Black wasn’t about to waste an opportunity to advance her company’s social justice mission. Each pint contains “stay woke” facts printed on the side that cover pitfalls of the U.S. criminal justice system.
Pick one up at her storefront in Arlington or at Glen’s Garden Market and you might read something like this: “Our Constitution prohibits excessive bail and yet over 412,000 innocent people sit in jail every day, most, because they can’t afford to pay their bail. Excessive bail can cost the incarcerated their livelihood, homes, and children plus costs America $15.26 billion a year. The money bail system serves only bail bondsman. D.C. has proven that a system that uses public safety and likelihood to return to court as a measurement for release does work.”
Black, a single mom, attorney, and Naval officer, launched her company at local farmers markets in July 2019 and opened her 1201 S Joyce St. shop in Arlington in December 2019, months before the pandemic rocked the world. Customers became more interested in purchasing pints to take home instead of buying ice cream by the scoop. That means more Washingtonians saw Black’s “stay woke” facts.
“It’s been received really well,” Black says. “These are things that aren’t meant to divide. They’re things everyone can agree on are messed up.” She says her next website will have petitions that people can sign on important issues impacting the community. “Once we get a certain number of signatures, we can hand them over to state and federal legislators,” Black says. “I went to law school. I wanted to be the next Thurgood Marshall. Then I realized the way to change things is through legislation.”
Running a food retail business is a marked departure from Black’s former life. After graduating from Temple University, Black joined the U.S. Navy in 2010. Over the course of four years, she deployed three times, including to Japan on the USS George Washington. Then in 2014, Black left active duty military service to attend law school. “I graduated, took the bar exam, and found out the same day I was getting deployed.”
Black had joined the reserves and knew being sent overseas again was a big risk. This time was different because she had an 18-month-old daughter, Isabella. A cousin took care of her when Black left for Djibouti for more than a year. “I stopped producing milk, I was so stressed,” she says. “I cried every single night. The way it was impacting her was just killing me.”
Once Black reached her station in Djibouti she committed to finding a way out of the military. She saw entrepreneurship as that path and pitched fellow sailors, Shark Tank-style, on several business ideas. She knew she wanted to focus on food having run a cheesecake business while stationed in Japan. Healthy ice cream emerged as the answer and Black spent the remainder of the deployment researching how to launch and run a business.
“The last thing I made my daughter before I left was an ice cream cookie cake,” Black explains. “She’d never had ice cream before. I never gave her cane sugar or anything like that. She fell in love with it, obviously, because it’s friggin ice cream.”
Black set out to make one of America’s favorite desserts better for you by using fruit-based sweeteners like dates. She says her ice creams also have up to 24 grams of protein, generous amounts of fiber and calcium, and 16 vitamins and minerals. Amore Congelato carries both dairy-based and oat milk-based ice creams. The most popular flavors are chocolate chip cookies and cream, pistachio swirl, and banana pudding. “Now I’m fine with [Isabella] eating it,” Black says.
When Black returned from her Djibouti deployment in April 2019 she surprised Isabella by hiding in a box. It was caught on camera.
“Everybody has their own reason for starting a business,” Black says. “My fourth deployment, my first one with a baby, it almost broke me.” She didn’t want to go into legal practice despite having attended law school because the demanding schedule would take Black away from her daughter again. “My whole life I had never made a decision that was something I wanted to do,” she says.
Amore Congelato, which will change its name to Bon AppéSweet in 2021, is that thing. Two grocery stores just signed on to carry Black’s healthy gelato and she says Whole Foods is currently evaluating it.
“The reality is we’ve gotten to a place in one year that normally takes five years,” Black says, assessing her growing company. “I’m a single mom. I do everything on my own. People look at me like, ‘You’re never going to do anything. Your life is set, already done.’ I want to tell people and encourage people not to give up. It’s going to be more difficult, but you can do it.”