Thereasa Black is the owner of Arlington-based Bon AppéSweet. Formerly known as Amore Congelato, the frozen treats shop offers an assortment of all-natural gelatos, sorbets, and chocolate bars made with ingredients like dates and oat milk. A lawyer by training, Black is also a Navy veteran who decided to start the business while she was stationed in Japan.
Hello Alice talked with Black about why she opened the shop, the resources she relied on as a first-time entrepreneur, and how her daughter inspires her to keep going. What follows are her own words, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Owner, Bon AppéSweet | Arlington, Virginia
I got deployed in 2018, which meant I left my daughter behind. I cried literally every single night for the entire time I was gone, and I decided that when I got back, I’ll never deploy again. I also decided that I couldn’t work as an attorney, where I would work 80-hour weeks and never see my daughter. That’s when I decided to start my own business.
I chose gelato because I made my daughter an ice cream cake before I left. I only gave ice cream to her on her birthday, but when I was deployed, my cousin, who was taking care of her, didn’t care about my rule. When I came home, I created a healthier ice cream using no cane sugar and only fruit-based sweeteners. Over time, because it had no cane sugar, I had to create other add-ins to go with my gelato, so I also started making chocolate. Last month, we started making it as chocolate bars, and now we sell both chocolate bars and gelato.
I didn’t have any business experience. I started reading a ton of books about entrepreneurship like The $100 Startup, Never Split the Difference, Venture Deals, Secrets of Sand Hill Road, Built to Last. I’m also a vet, and there’s a program called Bunker Labs that helps you figure out how to launch your business. So, I did that program. Then I registered for my business and got everything in place before I got back home.
It’s tough — I’m not going to lie. A lot of the time, I’m going to sleep at 1 o’clock in the morning and wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning. When I first started, some days, I was working full-time and selling at farmers markets. Some nights, I would literally wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning on Friday and not go back to sleep until 1 o’clock in the morning on Monday.
Every night when I put my daughter to bed, I used to sing her songs. During that time, I would sing the song and pass out. She would be like, “Mommy, wake up!” Sometimes it’s really tough and difficult. But the reality is, it’s so inspiring for your kids to see how hard you’re working for them. They might be too young to really understand, but as they get older, they’ll understand what you did, the sacrifice that you gave in order to make a better life for them.
For me, seeing her already being inspired to be an entrepreneur is inspiring. When she goes to my shop and sees one of my employees doing something that she knows is not supposed to be happening, she’s like, “Mommy, he didn’t do this.” Or, “He didn’t put the right thing on that.” It’s funny because she already knows what is and what is not supposed to be happening. Being an entrepreneur, my daughter sees me working, and she understands that you’re not just a mom — you’re doing something else. It helps her to say, “Mommy, I want to run my own business when I get older.”
My company is really a promise to her that I’m never going to leave her again. And while she doesn’t understand what that means yet, every day, she sees me working hard. She tells me, “Mommy, why do you always work?” And I tell her, “I’m trying to create a future for you, for us.”