Durham is home to a couple of ice cream mainstays that every local and Duke student knows and loves, including Pincho Loco, a few steps away from East Campus, and The Parlour, located in the heart of downtown Durham.
These staples are tried and true; however, if you’re looking for something new to satisfy your sweet tooth this fall, Simons Says Dip This certainly has you covered. The concept alone is exciting; your basic ice cream cone is coated in a Belgian chocolate dip flavor of your choice and then coated with as many toppings as you want. With 24 dip flavors and endless topping choices, you could go back a hundred times and still have more to try.
Co-owners Audrey Simons and her husband Nathan grew up on dipped ice cream cones as kids. Simons explained that this was part of the inspiration behind Simons Says Dip This.
“Both my husband and I grew up with dip cones at Dairy Queen. I really like the butterscotch dip and he likes the cherry. It was not always easy to find a location that would offer those three flavors ...it was usually just chocolate,” Simons said. “It was a real treat when you found ones that have the flavor that you like.”
The idea of dip cones resurfaced for the couple a few years ago when they were figuring out the next steps in Nathan’s career, but it remained just an idea.
“[Nathan] was always focused on fine dining, so when I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do dip cones in any flavor, like peanut butter or coconut or fun flavors?’ we didn’t really take it seriously, it was just a silly idea,” Simons said.
The real vision for the business, however, began materializing after both Audrey and Nathan spent a few years living abroad in Europe.
“I lived in Germany for a couple years, he lived in Italy for a few years, and they have nut spreads like [Nutella] for just about every nut you can think of,” Simons said. “And they don’t all include chocolate, just the nut, it’s kind of a sweet spread.”
Audrey and Nathan took a particular interest in these nut spreads, and they started making these spreads themselves and giving them out for people to try.
“We bought the equipment, we started testing out some recipes, and of course then we would have friends and family taste it, and then they passed it along to their friends,” Simons said. “Eventually they were like, ‘You could turn this into a business. You really have something here.’”
What could have remained just a fun hobby turned into a real business idea in 2017 due to the positive responses from loved ones about their creations. First, they called themselves Simons Says Spread This, selling their European-style nut butters around the Triangle.
This venture again raised the idea of dip cones after experimenting with ice cream and their nut butter spreads.
“‘You know that idea we had about dip cones years ago, do you think maybe we were onto something there?’” Simons recalled saying to her husband. “By that time he was getting tired of the fine dining scene, so we started taking that dip cone idea more seriously.”
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So, after many years of floating the idea and taking it in different directions, the dip cone dream started to become a reality. Starting a new business takes time, though, and it was further dragged out when the pandemic hit.
“It took a while, especially with the delay of 2020, everything was put on hold,” Simons said. “But I think it all worked to our benefit because we opened at a time when everybody is ready to be out, the mask mandate is gone, the social distancing mandate is gone, businesses can be open at one hundred percent capacity. It was the right time.”
The pandemic was a huge challenge to small businesses around the country, but fortunately Simons Says Dip This came into the picture in May 2021, when North Carolinians were itching to get out and the pandemic restrictions were lifted.
Even though there was still some unease for businesses as people slowly started trickling back out to restaurants, Audrey and Nathan felt particularly hopeful opening their shop in Durham because of the tremendous support that local businesses tend to receive from the Durham community.
“We both have worked at M Sushi for a few years, and we like the food scene in Durham,” Simons said. “We know that locals here really support local businesses.”
And there certainly has been an outpouring of support and excitement from the community this summer — the line can sometimes stretch out of the door and down the block. Everyone is happy to wait for the chance to customize their own cone.
With the wide array of flavors and toppings, though, Simons mentioned that some people can feel a bit inundated with the choices.
“Occasionally you’ll get some people who see all of the choices and will be overwhelmed and don’t know which direction to go in. And then I’ll say, ‘Well what kind of desserts do you normally go for? Are you more chocolate, are you more fruit, are you somewhere in between?’ And then I’ll come up with a combination for them.”
One of the best aspects of Simons Says Dip This is that there is bound to be a treat for everybody. Not only are there endless possibilities for dipped cones, but they also make cookie sandwiches and sell freeze-dried candies.
“We just love the idea. Nathan knew he was going to get a freeze dryer for the fruits, so I was like, ‘Why don’t we do candy too? I think that would be fun.’ So we just experimented with different candies, and the Jolly Ranchers and the Skittles are probably the most popular ones that we sell.”
Within the next few years, the couple hopes to open at least one more location in the Triangle, but luckily for Duke students and Durham locals, Simons Says Dip This is located in the center of downtown Durham, right across the street from Unscripted hotel.
So, your sweet tooth should fear not this semester, with yet another addition to the list of sweet treats to find in Durham.