Tamara Keefe of Clementines

apronomics town and country

May 8, 2017

By: Karyn Williams

Tamara Keefe is one of the lucky ones. She makes a living doing something she loves, something so beautifully ingrained in her memories that it is more than just a passion, it’s part of her soul. That ‘something,’ in all its simplicity, is ice cream. Keefe, however, has gone above and beyond to make her Lafayette Square microcreamery, Clementine’s, more than just a place to get a couple of scoops. It’s a destination that is all about the experience.

Her story starts as a young girl growing up in southern California, where she lived until her previous job moved her to St. Louis nine years ago. “My family was really poor,” Keefe says. “Every Sunday after church, other families would go get ice cream, and when I asked my mom if we could, the answer was always no.” But when a garage sale stop on the way home landed them a $2 hand-crank ice cream maker, Keefe says her whole dynamic changed dramatically. “We met in the kitchen after doing our chores,” she recalls. “From then on, we made ice cream every Sunday until my mom passed.” Other families soon wanted in on the ritual, and Keefe says they went from being the ‘uncool’ family to the coolest family in church. “I attribute it all to ice cream,” she says.

For Keefe, ice cream means community and making memories. “It’s very powerful for me,” she explains. “It’s not just ice cream, it’s purpose.” But she never once dreamed of opening her own shop. Instead, Keefe became engulfed in the corporate world, rising in the ranks quickly at DuPont. “I traveled all over the world,” she says. “In 2012, I was gone 262 days. And I realized I was miserable.”

On a girls’ trip, friends prompted her to quit and open an ice cream shop. Two weeks later, she did. Keefe put her 25 years of marketing experience and background in the food industry to good use and researched the latest ice cream and dairy trends through a leading program at Penn State. “I wanted my product to be healthy, natural and good,” she says. “And I wanted a competitive differentiation.” She ended up with several.

Clementine’s is the only microcreamery in the surrounding five-state region; there are only 14 in the country. That distinction requires following strict guidelines, like being able to trace every single ingredient in her all-natural ice cream. “We make every candy, sauce, cake or cookie that goes into it, and I am the only shop in Missouri that uses rBst- and hormone-free cows that are grass grazed and pasture fed,” she says. “If I can get ingredients within 300 miles of here, I do. Otherwise, I get the highest quality available.” She uses 50 percent less sugar to let her unique flavors shine through. Except for a few staples, flavors are constantly rotated; the menu might include Beet Strawberry, Cherry Almond Panettone, Gooey Butter Cake (the No. 1 crowd favorite), and one of Keefe’s favorites, Tommy’s Toffee Butter Brickle, based on her mom’s recipe. She also offers boozy flavors for the adult crowd. Maple Bourbon or Chocolate Cabernet anyone?

It didn’t take long for Clementine’s (incorporated in 2014) to grow from its small, startup kitchen with Keefe delivering pints out of her car to a full-blown operation. In 2015, she bought a small but mighty shop on Park Avenue and in 2016, she expanded and moved her kitchen operations to a 5,000-square-foot building in Ferguson. “I live in Lafayette Square, and I couldn’t imagine opening my first shop anywhere else,” she says. “The neighborhood has been so warm and supportive.”

Now, Clementine’s is on the menu in about 60 well-known restaurants and hotels, and seven more retail locations are planned. The second will open in early June at 730 DeMun Ave., and a third will follow in South Hampton later this fall. Keefe has succeeded in her dream to put St. Louis ice cream on the map. No matter if there are 150 people in line or five, every customer is treated well, even if that means trying every flavor. “We don’t want to rush people,” she says. “The best part of the job is making people happy. I love hearing, ‘This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had!’

salted crack

salted crack caramel ice cream
*Choose your favorite ice cream flavor to incorporate Clementine’s housemade add-ins.

cracker candy
20 saltines
20 Ritz crackers
20 pretzel crackers
1 c butter
1 c Brown Sugar
8 oz. chocolate chips

» Preheat oven to 425°F. Line cookie sheet with foil and butter lightly.
» Checkerboard crackers, salt side down, on sheet.
» In saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar until it runs caramel in color (a few minutes). Pour over crackers, covering evenly.
» Bake 3 to 5 minutes, until bubbly.
» Remove from oven and cover with chocolate chips. When they are melted, spread the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with Maldon Sea Salt flakes and place in freezer or refrigerator.
» Once frozen or cool, break into pieces.

scratch-made salted caramel sauce
1 c sugar
1 ¼ c cream
1 T pure vanilla extract
2 t flaky sea salt

» Heat 1 c. sugar in a dry, 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, gently stirring the liquefied sugar toward the center until all the sugar is dissolved and dark amber in color. Continue to cook, stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long.
» Add 1 ¼ c. cream (mixture will splatter) and cook, stirring, until all caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Photos: Bill Barrett