Ruta Smith

Park Circle Creamery owner Maurice “Mo” Ray faced the dilemma of operating during a pandemic like many other local businesses, but a partnership with Jessica Tenberge of fancy ice cream bar company Holy Sticks led to the expansion of his classic offering.

Ray, who opened the Park Circle ice cream parlor at 1044 East Montague Ave. in 2016, said business was slow at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’d have Saturdays where it would look like an old Western town.”

A Second Sunday collaboration in February paved the way for a more permanent partnership with Tenberge who owns Holy Sticks, an ice cream bar concept that previously served the College of Charleston crowd out of a King Street storefront.

Their new business model was simple: Park Circle Creamery would transition to curbside pick-up and offer Holy Sticks’ colorful ice cream bars to pair with their classic scoopable ice cream.

Ray changed the layout of the store, setting up the register in the doorway and listing flavors wherever there was space. Still, it was a struggle at first. “We tried the sandwich board, and we got little whiteboards,” said Ray. “It was rough, but we just dug in our heels and made it work.”

As restrictions eased, more people came out for ice cream to-go with the family. From there, Ray and Tenberge began adding creative touches to their collaborative menu.

New flavors included chocolate chip cookie dough, “Death By Chocolate” and “Holy No Cow” vegan ice cream. Later, Tenberge created a strawberry, vanilla and blueberry BRAVO bar in honor of Ray, who spent 13 years in the U.S. Navy. Then came the customizable ice cream sandwiches, which Tenberge said exemplifies their work together.

“He brought classic, I brought pizzazz,” she said. The ideas are met with a hands-on approach featuring high-quality ingredients like cream sourced from a small Georgia co-op.

“Every part of the ice cream is touched by us,” Tenberge said. “We’re hand-making caramel or we’re making brownies or we’re doing something special to our ice cream. But it’s all done by two people.”

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For Ray and Tenberge, the turning point came at Easter when the duo had the idea to sell do-it-yourself ice cream baskets.

“You could get four bars and two pints of ice cream or whatever combination you wanted,” said Ray. The baskets, which also included ice cream toppings and Easter eggs, showcased both brands in a family-friendly format. “It caught like wildfire. That was the lifesaver,” he said.

Ray and Tenberge sold over 200 baskets and from that point on, those driving down East Montague Avenue between 3 and 8 p.m. would see a crowd outside the shop — appropriately spaced, of course.

With the in-store experience revamped, they’re adding a catering component to their business model. According to Tenberge, they’ve brought bars and scoops to corporate events and a few weddings. Their recent purchase of a catering truck will streamline the operation.

“We’re offering a lot of fun options that have not been seen as far as ice cream and catering go,” she said.

Ray and Tenberge — “the ebony and ivory of ice cream,” as they said — aren’t sure where this new partnership will take them. For now, their love of ice cream and mutual respect keeps them going.

“We’ve found that there’s so much more that unifies us than divides us,” said Tenberge. “Our passion for ice cream is kind of our common denominator in this equation. Mo actually went to this high school right across the street. I mean talk about a guy who’s keeping it as local as you can. Before Park Circle was Park Circle, Mo was here.”

“Adversity produces creativity, creativity produces opportunity,” said Ray. “The last two months, we had some interesting days, and the fun part about it is we came out of it better than we went into it.”