The Joys of a Two-Scoop Brownie Sundae with Robin Rinearson

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Photo credit: Lucia Claster

For Robin Rinearson, a former optometrist, starting an ice cream business was no mere retirement gig. It was a way to help her nephew, Jake Swetlow, who has cerebral palsy, find a job after his previous one, at E-Tron Systems, Inc. in Lorton, ended during the COVID pandemic.

Today, it’s not just Jake who is employed by Jake’s Ice Cream in Falls Church. It’s 20 other people with disabilities, too. For her efforts, Rinearson, 68, received the Eleanor Sue Finkelstein Inclusion & Disabilities Award from the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

Tell us about your relationship with Jake.

He’s my nephew. He’s my brother’s oldest son, and he is now 30. He and I are pretty close.

He loves all things chocolate. I promised him he and I would bake every other weekend. He had to find a recipe, send it to me via email, we’d bake and he could take it all home with him. We started that years ago. I have a little cookbook of everything we’ve made recipes for.

What made you want to start this business for him?

Jake got a job working for a local company that makes wire products (E-Tron). When we were dealing with the pandemic, the company stayed open. They didn’t make the accommodations for the disabled group.

Jake had worked there for eight years. And so…he was home and getting bored.

Jake had been unemployed for a year. I said to my brother (Larry Swetlow), “It’s time for us to come up with something for Jake to do.”

How did it go from there?

I found space that I could afford to rent. And we opened our ice cream parlor.

I said to my brother, “I’ve saved enough money. I can afford to pay for the business for 10 years. So, I’m going to make this commitment to my nephew.”

What did you have to do to figure out the ice cream business?

It’s actually not that difficult. Once I knew how to run my practice, an ice cream shop is not much different. There’s licensing and regulation. We have inspections. There’s all kinds of regulatory hoops you have to jump through. Getting permits. Getting your license renewed.

Learning how to make ice cream is pretty easy. I can teach you to make ice cream in a day.

How does Jake like working there?

He loves it. But he loves everything chocolate. Every Saturday he has a two-scoop brownie sundae.

You’re in the process of opening a second location, Jake’s Gourmet Popcorn.

Why the pivot to popcorn?

Popcorn is next because I was looking to open a second ice cream parlor and I found space I could afford. It couldn’t be an ice cream-only space (due to a non-compete clause in the lease). I went to graduate school in Chicago and popcorn is all over the place. And there are almost none around here.

How do you like this second career?

I love it. I’ve always been somebody who rises to a challenge.

Most of my staff have now been with me almost two years, and there’s almost no turnover.

In what ways has your Judaism motivated you with this endeavor?

It’s in the cultural and connection to family ways. It’s not going inside an edifice and saying prayers in Hebrew. Although for Chanukah and Sabbath dinner, we will often say those prayers.

My dad (Ralph Alex Swetlow) served in World War II and when he came back at the end of the war, he decided that God does not exist. Because if God existed, [the Holocaust] would not have happened. He lost his taste for organized religion. So that got me started sort of questioning things.

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1 COMMENT

  1. What a great article. I remember her offices in Virginia, I believe. I would have liked to have had Jake himself in the interview also — he’s a smart guy. I would have liked to have read how his life has changed, about the disability movement to have more visibility in our community and about the other staff. Thanks.

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