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The Unlikely Story of the Ice Cream Queen of KZN

TGIFOOD

SCOOP!

The Unlikely Story of the Ice Cream Queen of KZN

Amanda Maidman and ice cream extravagance. Photo: Leigh Jameson

When her daughter Maya suggested selling her homemade ice cream at a children’s market on their eco-estate Amanda Maidman agreed. She had no idea she’d found her groove.

Amanda Maidman had just spray-tanned her 67th Ballito bride-to-be and was not happy. The bride glowed, evenly, sunnily. Amanda did not. She was bored to tears.

This was not work. And work is Amanda’s passion. Always has been. As a 12-year-old in Surrey, she delivered papers weekdays before school, and dish-washed at a Guildford restaurant weekends. By 19 she was running a busy Pizza Hut branch – until the day she called the area manager “a wanker”. She was immediately snapped up as an official trouble-shooter by rivals Pizza Express, who were about to expand. She was right there in the thick of the action when the group grew from 30 to 120 branches in nine months, and was listed on the Stock Exchange.

Photo: Leigh Jameson

Next, when one of her Pizza Express bosses bought a chain of 2,000 failing UK pubs, she took charge of revamping 30 of them, spread from Surrey to Scotland: aesthetics (décor), staffing, menus, training. Her favourite, The Fire Stable, in Wimbledon, was judged Time Out’s Gastropub of the year in 2001. “It was a bum-in-butter job. I loved it!”

En route (let’s fast-forward) came marriage to a fishing, beach-loving Saffer from Glenashley (met way out of his element at a rave in Farringdon), a baby son, Luc, and still, an unrelentingly hectic work schedule. A change in pace and base was called for, and the Maidmans decamped from London to the KZN coast.

Photo: Leigh Jameson

Amanda had fallen for South Africa some years before on a holiday safari, and anticipated the best. She would depressurise, she thought, and revel in full-time motherhood. To her consternation, she found … “I hated it”. She had not factored in her own personality (“I am driven”), or work ethic. She lives and breathes big, challenging jobs. Not “little gigs to keep me out of mischief!” Yummy-mummydom was torture. She remembers driving through the Tongaat Toll on the N2, and desperately envying the toll operators. “They had a job to go to. I didn’t.”

So she was a pushover when a former colleague phoned to make her an offer…

Would she return to London for a year, one week a month? She would be flown back and forth, and paid handsomely. She was needed, no one else would do, to project-manage some completely “new concepts” for the hugely popular Wagamama chain, adding, for example, in Leamington Spa, an “Oriental cocktail bar” element to its Japanese-inspired Asian food offering.

Photo: Leigh Jameson

Of course she did not, could not, refuse “the best job ever”. Even if it was a continent away. She made 14 flights to and from Heathrow in a year. But when this mad assignment was finally over, she knew she had to find a suitably challenging project at home.

It happened almost by chance. The youngest in the family, daughter Maya, wanted to participate in a kids’ market at Simbithi Eco-estate, where they were living. She suggested making and selling her mother’s ice cream. (Basic recipe from The Fire Stable, Amanda’s award-winning gastro-pub in Wimbledon.) They made two flavours in a tiny, first-freeze-your-bowl home machine – gin and tonic, and chocolate. Called them Scoop. And were sold out within 15 minutes.

Photo: Leigh Jameson

Amanda had found her groove.

Her childhood food memories are of cheese and Marmite sandwiches, and ice cream as a special treat. There was a lemon sorbet she fell for when visiting Germany; and HäagenDazs’ classic chocolate chip. But (let us get ahead of ourselves for a moment) these no longer rate. “Ours are much better.”

Starting small, in her home kitchen with her domestic helper, she hit local markets with fresh seasonal sorbets (strawberry, litchi, granadilla, pineapple and ginger, lemon, mango… health-food, really, fruit sourced from local farms).

I was plugging KZN.” Plus there were disgracefully rich, creamy, lush indulgences such as salted caramel, very dark choc, macadamia-nut salted vanilla, and so on and irresistibly on. The Jersey milk and cream comes from Khulisani Farm at Tweedie in the KZN midlands; the free-range eggs from another nearby farm. We – early customers – had not tasted anything so delicious and unartificial and better-than-homemade for ever.

There were, of course, hiccups. Including being sold a non-existent tuk-tuk by a Cape Town con artist. So much for Amanda’s plans to putter along the beaches from Salt Rock to Ballito, selling scoops of Scoop to surfers and sunbathers.

Photo: Leigh Jameson

But the little home industry was steadily becoming better than the rest. With instantly recognisable professional branding: she inspanned designer-photographer Clinton Friedman to create her clean, delicious, bright pastel Scoop logo. “I had to get out and make it bang!”

Soon it was served at 5-star hotels and by catering royalty like Jacqui Rey’s Food Matters. Production quickly expanded from home kitchen to the Litchi Orchard at Salt Rock, then Amanda’s own factory in Ballito. And a prime corner store in The Market, at Ballito’s Lifestyle Centre, avoidable only by the most rigidly-dieting or sadly unadventurous. With the most comfortable ice cream-hued stools in the world, also locally made. (The coffee, roasted by SteamPunk in the Midlands, is very good, too.)

Photo: Leigh Jameson

And this week (drum roll), Scoop opened in Durban, on another prime corner, Florida and Currie roads.

Conceived and shopfitted by Amanda and crew (the landlord’s designers didn’t get her vision, she says, “and anyway, this is the kind of thing I love doing”), it is managed by the brilliantly smiling and efficient Sharon Xulu. Who is a fine example of Amanda’s other driving force: the 16 people who work with her.

She believes strongly in empowerment through employment. She finds potential stars at the side of the road, in carparks, at supermarket check-outs – engages, assesses, and puts her picks through classes at Work 4 a Living, a nationwide NGO teaching job skills. Her assistant, Dieudonne Mukubu, who now handles the techier side of the business, is a former car guard. “He’s a methodical, details person – I am not. I think in pictures.” Running the Ballito store is affable Serge Bahse, first encountered in a shopping centre car park. Sharon started off as a shop assistant. Amanda is a talent-spotter.

Scoop now churns up to 30 different flavours. Some seasonal, like Christmas pud, and hot cross bun. Some with a spicy local resonance, like Indian Summer, which features cardamom. The all-time hits are 70% Belgian chocolate, and Madagascan vanilla. There is a sugar-free, Innocent range. Very superior home-made cones and waffles. Thailand-inspired ice cream “rolls”. Milkshakes Spectacular ice cream cakes to order.

So is the restless workaholic happy now she has her hands full(er)? For the moment. But she won’t, next, be adding little frills to her menus, like sauces or toppings. She’ll be going big.

Watch out for Scoop nationwide. DM

Gallery

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