Stephanie Tabao, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, always loved the Instagram-worthy, delicious cereal-infused treats from Milk & Cream Cereal Bar in NYC—so much that she jumped in to open their first franchise in Jersey City. But when she began construction in early 2020, she never dreamed she would have to halt everything due to the lockdown. Despite the challenges, the unique ice-cream shop has been turning heads, and tempting taste buds with their modern spin on childhood fave cereals like Cap’n Crunch and Cocoa Puffs ever since they opened in late May. We sat down with the Jersey City mom of two and former fashion exec to talk about jumping into entrepreneurship when the universe throws you a COVID curveball, her menu must-orders (hint: Teddy Grahams make everything better), and her favorite neighborhood spots this side of the Hudson.
featured photo via Iyanlamaya De Freitas
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before opening your shop?
Before ice cream, I had a career in fashion. I graduated from FIT in NY in Fashion Merchandising and Management and then worked in the fashion jewelry industry as a production manager for 6 years. Then, I had my daughter Madison and told myself if I got pregnant with another baby, I would have to stop working. I got laid off when I found out I was pregnant with Chase—it was a blessing in disguise. I became a stay at home mom and did that until this year. I realized if I were going to work, it would be for myself, and opening Milk & Cream Cereal Bar has allowed me to do that.
Milk & Cream Cereal Bar is such a unique concept—how did you end up opening it in NJ?
My entire family loves the ice cream and nostalgia behind the brand. The original location is in Nolita and opened 3 years ago. It’s more than an ice cream shop—we want our customers to walk through the doors and say ‘wow’ through the whole experience. It’s a space to share memories with your favorite cereal and old school cartoons. The new location in Jersey City is the first franchise —the owners and founders were ready to expand, and since I wanted to do something of my own (and it’s my favorite ice cream spot ever since I discovered it), it was a no-brainer to jump in. We feel fortunate that the founders trusted and believed in us (me and my husband) to be the second location owners.
Your Instagram feed is seriously crave-worthy! Tell us about some of your signature items and why people love them.
Our signature items will curb any sweet tooth, but so many gravitate to Froot Berry Bliss. The purple swirl of this fruity go-to treat consists of Froot Loops, strawberries, and blueberries. With the addition of colorful toppings like fruity pebbles and gummy bears, it’s a showstopper. Also, when you add golden Teddy Grahams to any order, it makes for a delicious treat that’s ready for an Instagram moment.
How did the pandemic alter your plans for opening, and what have you learned through the experience?
Our original opening day was supposed to be in March, but unfortunately, the pandemic hit a serious spike in our area. We were almost done with construction when our team informed us they couldn’t travel to New Jersey to finish the job. Then, everything shut down, and we had to take a pause, even though we were near the end. My family and I were lucky enough to stay safe at home during the pandemic, and like the rest of the country, had to wait it out. After a few months, we decided to continue to push forward. We put on the final touches and opened on May 28th. No matter what came our way, we still managed to move forward and open safely just in time for summer, with precautions in place.
What do your kids order at the shop? Do you have the same favorite cereals?
My kids are not as creative as they could be when it comes to their go-to desserts, but they do have their favorites. My daughter gets Oreo O’s cereal blend with vanilla, perfectly topped with gummy bears. My son gets plain old vanilla and sprinkles on top. I try not to have them at the shop every day because they eat into my inventory—haha.
What is the most challenging part of being an NJMOMpreneur, particularly over these past few months, with everything happening and growing your business?
Now that virtual school is in session balancing at-home learning and a business is hard. I will admit, I have the best cheerleader and support from my husband, Daniel. He has his full-time job in New York City, but luckily he has been able to work virtually during the pandemic. However, we manage to work together so that everyone can get everything done. At the store, I have trained a fantastic team so I can step away for a little to enjoy a few hours at the park with my family when school is out.
Share some of your favorite local businesses and what you love about them.
I have so many—all the businesses in Jersey City near our store have been incredibly supportive, welcoming, and helpful when we first opened. Vicente Deli across the street never fails to fuel me up with their iced coffee in the morning. Helen’s Pizza is there to give my kids a slice when they do not want ice cream. BonChon has been a go-to family dinner when they see us at the store all day and night. We are fans of The Archer, not only for their excellent drinks but also for helping us learn the ropes of being business owners. The Boil, which opened before the pandemic, got us through the trials and tribulations of opening during this uncertain time by providing great advice, all while satisfying our love for seafood. And I cannot forget Ani Ramen and Miso Ramen, our go-to spots when I don’t have time to make dinner.
What words of wisdom can you offer to a budding NJMOMpreneur with a unique business idea?
I am going to quote Nike by saying, “just do it.” You never know if you will fail or succeed until you try. You will face many roadblocks along the way, but as my husband likes to say—everyone would be doing it if it were easy.