How sweet it is!

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Thierry Cassagnol opens a Kilwins here, looking for some fun while giving back to a community that helped shape his life

By Ned Steele

We all scream for ice cream, the saying goes.
At an early age, Thierry Cassagnol learned to scheme for ice cream.
“When I was about 5 or 6 my grandmother would spoil me with big swirls of ice cream,” he recalls. “One time I dropped the whole thing on the ground, and I tried to pick it all up. But my grandmother just replaced it.
“So, I learned that if I dropped an ice cream cone, it reappears – I get a new one.”
The young entrepreneur-to-be realized he could eat just part of his cone, and repeat the trick to earn another. It taught him a valuable lesson: when it comes to ice cream, the old rules go out the window and new ones magically apply.

Store owner Thierry Cassagnol offers up a treat at his Kilwins shop in the Village. (photo by John Morton)

Four decades later and now a successful hedge fund owner, Cassagnol has returned to Siesta Key, where he once was a skateboarding teenager devoted to Big Olaf’s. Last December he opened an outlet of the highly regarded Kilwins national brand of ice cream and confectioneries in Davidson Plaza.
Running a hedge fund may be challenging and lucrative, but owning an ice cream shop in a beach town is … fun.
“It started on a whim,” Cassagnol confesses. “Siesta Key built who I was, and I wanted to give back to the community.”
And what better gift to a community than ice cream?
Someone at Kilwins, the national 150-plus outlet chain of frozen desserts and fresh-made sweets, had reached out to him and his team. The chain was interested in opening a spot on Siesta Key and “the universe aligned,” Cassagnol recalls.
With a background in restaurants – he worked for several years at Daquiri Deck – and in real estate – via his hedge fund Linear Mortgage which works with distressed bank portfolios – Cassagnol was an instant attraction for the Kilwins chain.
Although he reports “I have a good scooping arm,” you probably won’t see Cassagnol behind the counter should you stroll into Kilwins. With his investment background, he’s more likely to be poring over the sales reports and the numbers.
But an ace team is on the front lines. Cassagnol brought in a schoolmate friend, Christopher Welch, and Christopher’s dad Michael to run the shop on a daily basis. Michael had been chief operating officer of two of the world’s largest fast-food chains, and he helped Cassagnol set up the business.
An army of about 15 young people and seniors staffs the front lines, scooping out the frozen delectables and serving up the chocolates, candied apples, and caramel corn.

Some kids enjoy the shop’s grand opening. (submitted photo)

The store offers 36 flavors. The most popular overall, Cassagnol reports, is toasted coconut. Adults line up for cookies and cream flavor, while kids clamor most for the Superman concoction – described on the Kilwins website as “a swirling mix of fruity pink, yellow and blue.”
Cassagnol’s personal favorite? It’s a tossup between the toasted coconut and a raspberry sorbet.
With a multi-career background that has also included studying marine biology (until he realized that “there aren’t many jobs in marine biology”) and working in the construction, chemical and oil industries, Cassagnol has found owning an ice cream shop to be a learning experience. Three things he didn’t know until opening his Kilwins:

  • “How cold it is in an ice cream freezer. It doesn’t matter what kind of gloves or coat you have; it’s minus-7 and you have Florida blood.”
  • It is very difficult to pack ice cream into a small pint container: “You have to really mash it in.”
  • Preparing candies and sweets “is cooking and science at the same time. You have to match up cooking time and temperatures of the ingredients, and you learn how to temper chocolate and to paddle the fudge in a certain way.”
    But Cassagnol’s earliest ice cream discovery, the one that dates way back to the grandmother who replaced his dropped cones, has returned to drive a business policy that stands today at the Siesta Key Kilwins. If your child drops their newly-bought cone in front of the shop, Cassagnol and his team will replace it for free.
A Kilwins employee prepares caramel apples during the grand opening. (submitted photo)
Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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