An Elon staple may soon be experiencing a drastic change: Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream is being sold. After 18 years, co-owners Amy Nakhle and Tom Lambeth have made the call to pass the downtown Elon staple to someone new.
“It’s two-fold,” Nakhle said. “One of my family members is in a place where they’re going to need care.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a significant role in this decision.
“COVID has been a really tough situation for all small businesses,” Nakhle said. “Ice cream is not excluded from that. Shelter-in-place rules and students being let out early… it just really takes the legs out from right underneath us.”
Smitty’s began in 2002 in a small location on Church Street in Burlington before moving to their Elon location in 2012. In addition to their Elon location, they have a shop in Burlington, now on Front Street, and a shop in Graham— all three of which are for sale.
“Smitty’s is a big company. I’ve got three separate locations, I’ve got wholesale, I’ve got retail, and catering, and then our business as well,” Nakhle said.
At one point, Smitty’s was the official ice cream vendor for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and has made routine appearances at Elon University for football, basketball and soccer games, adding to Nakhle’s workload. Despite this, Nakhle was reluctant to make the decision to sell Smitty’s.
“Tom and I sat down and talked about it. We talked about maybe getting a manager to do things instead and so forth but it’s been my baby for a long time,” Nakhle said. “I don’t know if I really want to be in a place where I have to rely on somebody to do what I think needs to be done in the way I think it should be done.”
However, Smitty’s is being sold with the intention of continuing the ice cream business. Smitty’s is centered in downtown Elon and is currently the only ice cream shop accessible to many students; Nakhle said she knows how important Smitty’s is to the community.
“It’s a match made in heaven. Ice cream and college students kind of go hand-in-hand, and Elon has been so incredibly supportive and big cheerleaders of Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream,” Nakhle said. “Brown sugar oatmeal came to be because Elon University demanded it.”
The support from Elon’s community is a driving factor in evaluating potential buyers for Smitty’s. Nakhle and Lambeth are both focused on finding a buyer intent on continuing this relationship and expanding it.
“[We’re looking for] somebody who has a passion for ice cream, a passion for community, a passion for giving back. That’s been our mantra since the beginning,” Nakhle said. “We’ve wanted to be a part of the community. We’ve wanted to be a place that could give back to nonprofit organizations. That’s been very important to Tom and I both from the very beginning. It’s important to me that that person has a heart to be here, to participate actively in Alamance County, and to grow [Smitty’s].”
Nakhle’s hope for potential buyers has provided relief to Elon sophomore Jay Bennett. Having grown up in the town of Elon, Bennett has seen the progression of Smitty’s alongside other local businesses.
“It’s sad seeing all the business in Burlington and Elon going because of the pandemic,” Bennett said. “Burlington is home to a bunch of chains. It’s pretty much all chains. Whenever there is a precious little small business that opens, it’s really sad to see it go and be replaced by a chain.”
Smitty’s has been a long-rooted tradition in the Elon college experience — to the point where Bennett hopes a graduate will come and buy Smitty’s.
“I know that there’s a lot of people in Elon that are just graduating college that might look to that as a business venture,” Bennett said. “I’d buy it if I wasn’t a sophomore and if I had however much money it takes to buy a whole business.”
While Smitty’s won’t be gone — one can certainly expect changes in the near future, but Nakhle reassured it is likely to just be more Smitty’s — in the form of new custom flavors and more locations.
“We really do believe that Smitty’s has a future,” Nakhle said. “We would love to see somebody take it to the next level, make it their own.”