By Patti Nickel
Most 15-year-old girls rely on one of their parents to chauffeur them to gymnastics practices, mall shopping sprees or school dances, but then most girls aren’t Taylor Cook. True, at 15, Taylor needed her father John to be her driver, but not for shopping or gymnastics or any of the other things a teenager typically requires.
Since his daughter didn’t yet have a driver’s license, John piloted the mobile food truck where she conducted her fledgling business – dispensing her own homemade ice cream.
“Taylor’s dream since she was a child was to start her own ice cream business,” says John, “and when she was 15, she came to me and asked for a loan to buy the food truck.” Instead of dismissing the request as a teenage girl’s fantasy, John was firmly behind the idea. After all, he had started his own business – providing wooden pallets for factories – when he was just 16.
Together, the two of them made the rounds, selling Taylor’s farm fresh, premium hand-packed ice cream at church socials, concerts, fundraisers and various other community events. Taylor proved so successful that within a year, she had repaid her father, and was well on her way to fulfilling a goal she had been pursuing since joining Future Farmers of America at Anderson County High School. The FFA discovered it had a superstar in Taylor after her ice cream twice won the organization’s state competition.
Using her own recipes, she began with 12 flavors of ice cream, one truck and a supportive family who assisted in her endeavors, down to her younger sister Annabelle who earned the moniker “super scooper.”
Today, at the ripe old age of 23, Taylor is CEO of Taylor Belle’s Ice Cream. The 12 flavors have expanded to 35; the one mobile unit has grown to four, along with a manufacturing facility and a brick-and-mortar storefront, and she now oversees a staff of 34.
In addition, the market for her ice cream has grown far beyond the confines of her community. Signature flavors such as Banana Belle, Super Belle, Blue Madness, Bourbon Blast and Cotton Candy, are now served at locations across the commonwealth. They can be found at Critchfield Meats in Lexington, and are on the menu at all of Malone’s restaurant locations in Lexington and at DaVinci’s Pizza in Frankfort.
Patients at Baptist Health hospitals get the ice cream on their dinner trays, and Kentucky school children get it on their cafeteria trays, ever since Taylor signed a state contract to provide her ice cream to public schools in all of the state’s 120 counties.
Nowhere has her reputation as the commonwealth’s “ice cream queen” gotten a bigger boost than at the University of Kentucky, the state’s flagship university. She began providing ice cream to the University’s dining facility in the student center in 2018 when she was only 17. It was an immediate success.
Taylor really hit the big time when she began selling nine flavors of her ice cream, plus two soft serves at Rupp Arena during basketball games and concerts. Almost immediately she gained a high- profile fan. Jay Bilas, a former Duke University basketball standout (which means he probably isn’t too fond of all things UK) and current ESPN analyst, has been exuberantly touting Taylor Belle’s ever since he was presented with a cone of the soft-serve while on the air. Now, whenever he announces a UK game, the first thing he asks for isn’t a depth chart or team stats, but a cone of Taylor’s soft serve.
Things have changed drastically for the young woman since she began her career eight years ago. Just take a gander at the framed photographs lining the walls of her Lawrenceburg location, and you’ll see just how drastically. One thing, however, hasn’t changed. Her family is still her primary support group – both personally and professionally. John serves as the company’s Chief Operating Officer; her mother Amanda is the Chief Financial Officer; and as of September of last year, 18-year-old Annabelle is CEO of Taylor Belle’s & Burger.
The storefront is a purveyor not only of the ice cream, but of smashburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, soups and various side dishes. If you get the idea that Annabelle is taking a page from her older sister’s playbook, you would be right. She was in the middle of her senior year at Anderson County High and playing shortstop on the school’s softball team, when she decided to open a storefront. The next day she and John began shopping for a location.
Having co-CEOs might seem like a risky proposition in the corporate world rife with jealousy and power struggles. Not so with the sisters who say they have come to an agreement about their respective duties within the business.
“The only disagreements are of the sisterly kind,” insists Taylor. Even those seem to be in short supply for the tight-knit Cook family. Taylor and Annabelle have a special endearment for their father. “We call him Bob the Builder,” they chorus in unison, “since he’s been behind us, helping us build from the beginning.”
If John has been a role model for his daughters, the girls have been a source of inspiration for both of their parents. It’s not every parent who has the satisfaction of knowing their oldest daughter is one of the youngest women business owners in Kentucky history, and their other daughter is following in her footsteps. Their pride in their entrepreneurial daughters will be on full display this month when they are among the attendees at a UK Women’s basketball game in Rupp Arena. Though they will be cheering on the Lady Cats, they will be more excited about the halftime show.
That’s when both Taylor and Annabelle will be recognized by the University of Kentucky Power of Women campaign for their achievements and contributions to the commonwealth. And there are more awards to come. Already in this short year, Taylor received the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious “Pioneer Award” usually given out to much older entrepreneurs and has been nominated for the National Women’s Association of Business Owner’s for “Women Business Owner of the Year.”
Pretty impressive for a pair of Gen Zers with big dreams.