Amy’s Ice Creams’ catering manager comes as is. On first meeting, she’s clearly unpretentious, energetic, open, and bright. She sports an attention-getting fauxhawk, eye-catching specs, a warm rust-colored mechanic’s style button-down shirt with a dark, chocolate-brown tie, and an easy smile.
During her two-hour L Style G Style interview at the fittingly named Nomad Bar in East Austin, it’s clear that her restless nature and unique style are just two aspects of (among many things) a self-described tomboy, a family woman and a community asset named Carol Campbell. And while a prominent tattoo on her inner right forearm proclaims that she comes “as is,” there’s no slick or sneaky sales pitch to be suspicious of or fine print to read when it comes to Campbell. Nope, buyer need not beware.
Born in Louisiana, Campbell was part of an Air Force family that moved frequently when she was a child. Then, when Campbell was in the fourth grade, her family settled in Bastrop. “I was a tomboy,” she says. “My friends were all the skater boys who used to get beat up by the jocks and kickers.” Soon after graduating from high school, Campbell moved to Austin, where she had spent plenty of time during high school. I used to come into town and see bands at Liberty Lunch,” she reminisces. “Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom, Retarded Elf. The music was happy, jumpy, bouncy – I loved it.” Referring to her- self as a fledgeling skater girl who found her footing at popular early ‘90s clubs like – Acropolis with its unisex bathroom and Ohms with its freaks and geeks clientelle – Campbell says she embraced Austin because it embraced her.
Like many 18-year-olds, Campbell wasn’t embracing a career just yet. Fresh out of high school, her job history was anything but extensive, and she remembers applying at two places upon arriving in the capital city: an increasingly popular ice cream shop called Amy’s and Bill Miller Bar-B-Q. While both places offered her a job, she was being offered more money to work at the latter. Super punky with bright red hair, Campbell said Amy’s was her first choice, “but without realizing I would get tips at Amy’s, I chose Bill Miller.” Considering the irony of her current leadership role with Amy’s, she adds that it was probably a good choice. “When you’re 18 and just starting out, you don’t always take jobs that seriously, she said. “If I had started at Amy’s, I definitely wouldn’t be in the same place I am now.”
In addition to Thunderclouds, the original Schlotzsky’s, Alamo Drafthouse, and even a local dog grooming company, Bill Miller was the first in a long line of Texas companies where Campbell built her skills. “That’s actually where I started catering. The same places I send people now are the same places I used to go all the time in ‘92 and ‘93.”
Another of Campbell’s tattoos, a simple spider on her back, provides another insight into what she’s made of. She laughs, recounting the time a friend noticed it only had six legs, “I tell everyone it was in the war,” she says. And while all her limbs are intact, it’s clear that conflict and mission are both obstacles she’s willing to wrangle into submission. In 1996, Campbell took over Amy’s Arboretum location, as well as the challenge of taking it from a low-selling and less-than- organized store to a sparkling shop that ultimately boasted the highest sales in the company. That’s also where she began to hone her customer skills. “Stick me in front of people and I’m happy,” Campbell. “At the Arboretum store, I learned to gauge people,” she continues, describing how she developed a sixth sense for knowing who wanted to be engaged, who just wanted to get through line, etcetera.
It may sound a little dramatic for the levity-filled world of ice cream, but there’s no science to how long a wrist will hold out. Within a couple of years, Campbell was suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and left Amy’s. For about a year, she managed a dog grooming business, then one year later, in 1999, she was hired back at Amy’s as business manager, which ultimately led to her current job as Amy’s catering manager. But first, she embraced her nomadic nature one more time, and she found herself on a sabbatical of sorts in Eureka Springs, Ark.
On her left shoulder, another tattoo proclaims Campbell’s status as a mama’s girl. (Campbell came out to her very supportive mom when she was 21. According to Campbell, her mom told her, “I was wondering if I was going to have to drag you out of the closet.”) While in Eureka Springs, Campbell began her journey toward mama status as well when she met her wife, Dana, who works as a manager at Wheatsville Food Co-op. Dana was transitioning out of a marriage to her daughter Sairah’s father. After returning to Austin, Campbell, Dana, and Sairah live together with a collection of three cats and a couple of dogs. Clearly beaming with pride about her family, Campbell jokes, “The really great thing about Sairah is that she’s already potty trained.”
Jokes aside, Campbell takes her station as spouse and mom seriously. In fact, after more than six years together, Campbell and Dana were married on Friday the 13th this past March. The couple was featured in an Austin Chronicle article about the struggles gay and lesbian couples face while planning their weddings. After meeting with their first-choice venue, “we were told, ‘we don’t do those here,’” Campbell said. After finding a welcoming venue, the couple were married with both families in attendance and Pastor Jack Worthy officiated. “He’s an amazing man – and he got all the pronouns right, wore his collar, and included Sairah. She also said “‘she did’” to become part of the family.”
Now back at Amy’s and working as the company’s catering manager, Campbell says, “75% of my day is spent communicating on the phone and via e-mail with customers. I’m in constant communication with people.” And most of that time is spent focusing on making people happy. “I like to call myself the miracle worker because I’m constantly figuring out how to fill last minute orders and requests,” she said. “Times are few and far between that I tell someone no. It’s our mission statement to make someone’s day, so I’m not going to tell them no.”
Twenty-five years after Amy Simmons founded Amy’s Ice Creams, Campbell takes a lot of inspiration from Simmons’ story. “I want to own my own business one day,” she said. “Amy is a nurturer, and a big supporter of that. Amy says she wants Amy’s to be the best job anyone has ever had – until they start their own.” It’s not surprising, then, that Amy’s has employees who have been working there since the ‘80s. “I think it’s because Amy’s is a cool place to work. If you’re funky and creative you can have an outlet, get paid for it, and eat ice cream. It’s a great, wonderful culture.”
Inked before the film “Go Fish” was released, one of Campbell’s first tattoos was a tiny goldfish on her inner right calf that is fittingly similar to the movie poster image for the movie which illustrates a diversity of lesbian lives. Similarly, Campbell adds that Amy’s Ice Creams welcomes diversity, and is very a gay-friendly place to work. “(Amy) embraces every- body for what they’re worth,” Campbell said. “And she just knows that lesbians are bad-ass.”
Amy’s is a bit like the Louvre of ice cream – one could spend quite a lot of time there and still not taste everything. Campbell shared a few of her favorites for both uninitiated ice cream lovers and Amy’s fans who find themselves stuck in a flavor rut:
Carol Campbell’s Top Five:
My all time favorite combo ever is Mexican vanilla with strawberries, pecans, heath bar, and a sprinkle of malt powder. You have to do a half scoop each of pecans and heath or there is not enough ice cream to keep up with all of the toppings. If you like just a bit more chocolate then add just a drizzle of hot fudge for accent. I usually prefer no fudge, but every now and then I just have a hankerin’.
My second and third favorites are actually drinks. When I managed the arboretum store I started purchasing Sunkist in cans so that I could offer folks (really me) a dreamsicle frosted. I would use Mexican Vanilla as the base and then blend the Sunkist into it. I’m not actually sure if any of the stores carry Sunkist now, but you can always take your unopened can or bottle of Sunkist in and have them make one up for you. This is a super refreshing summer treat.
My third favorite is simply a Belgian Chocolate Malt. Yes, a malt and not a shake. It’s just like drinking/eating a big ol’ whopper. Yummy!
My fourth favorite is rather strange since I do not like coffee. Our coffee almond fudge swirl is to die for, though. What I like to do best with this is throw some more almonds and just a smidge of fudge on top of it. i don’t like to crush the almonds in though because you then mess up the fudge ribbon in the actual ice cream.
Fifth! You mean I have just one more thing I can pick? How am I supposed to tell everyone about how yummy dark chocolate mixed with our rasp- berry ices? Or what a delight our Texas dirt cake is? The joy that coconut ice cream with strawberries brings me? How simply yummy our oatmeal raisin cookie and gingersnap cookie flavors are? Or what great white Russians you can make when you take home our Kahlua ice cream? Sheesh! it seems a bit unfair to me. Fine, if you must have a fifth it would be (drumroll please) ice cream sandwich straight up in a cup. There’s almost nothing better than a bunch of yummy little ice cream sandwiches crushed up together in a cup so that you can eat it without having vanilla ice cream trailing down your arm while near a bunch of bees. Bees hate me.