Keith Schroeder sat in his car, contemplating his integrity, his happiness, his life as a hotel chef. At a time when business was most profitable, he had been forced to make cuts. Not usually one to talk to himself, Schroeder nevertheless relented out loud, “I have to find a way to take the high road.” At that very moment, his radio, like a Greek chorus mocking the one melodramatic moment he had ever allowed himself, began to play “High Road” by Broken Bells; and in that moment, High Road Craft Ice Cream & Sorbet was conceived.
High Road began in 2010 in an ice cream market that was highly competitive and saturated with high-fat, boring and interchangeable brands. Ciao Bella, a higher end gelato manufacturer, had recently made a huge push for retail. When such a brand makes a transition into the commodity market, it creates an opening for the little guy to step in; an opening that High Road was happy to take advantage of. Now that High Road has a foothold, it aims to carve out a niche as a global craft ice cream (think of the craft beer market except wide open).
High Road is available in 24 packaged flavors, 14 of which are available full-time on the shelves of Whole Foods, and just sold its first single-order-truckload of ice cream.
On Friday afternoon, the Nebo team took a trip to the historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market in east Downtown Atlanta to talk about life with Schroeder, the man, and learn some brand lessons from Schroeder, the maverick. From the tales Schroeder told on Friday and his conversations with team members, we were able to glean some tenets by which he operates and that have made his brand successful thus far.
It’s about flavor, not fat
Where most ice cream companies keep people coming back because of addictive, high fat content in their products, High Road has cornered the market on “experiential consumers,” that is, foodies, fellow chefs and genuine appreciators. Schroeder claims to have received pictures and tasting notes from people who bought eight pints and had a tasting party.
This philosophy is fungible to what we do. For years, search engines rewarded fat-filled content and glaringly obvious optimization. However, as algorithms evolve, content must become increasingly relevant to what the user needs. The digital marketing that succeeds will be the flavorful, not the fatty.
Integrity is integral
As a hotel chef, Schroeder took issue with the way the hotel industry operated: it was all about doing whatever it took to fill rooms. When he created High Road ice cream, his intent was to bring integrity back to the craft or die trying.
What sets High Road apart is that they refuse to cut corners. It’s a philosophy that its employees must consider every time they think about taking the easy road, as in, “We don’t make rocky road. We make the high road.” For this reason, High Road operates as a meritocracy, considering employees’ work over their pedigrees. Employees must state their goals and are then held to those proclamations because, as Schroeder puts it, High Road is, “3,000 percent about unlocking human potential.”
An extra scoop of American spirit
Schroeder strongly believes that entrepreneurship is the backbone of the nation. That’s why he decided to go for broke when he started his business in an attempt to blaze a trail as the only global premium craft ice cream manufacturer. In fact, success was such an important goal for him that the High Road infrastructure was built to support a company with over twice its revenue; and, consequently, it is fast on its way to matching that investment.
High Road manufactures products by employing a “brigade de cuisine,” or kitchen brigade system, in which everyone who touches the product has a special skill. This concept imbues value back into human labor and, as Schroeder believes, greatness back into America. Anyone in any industry can appreciate that individualistic, scrappy Ameri-can mentality, as well as the specialization of labor. When they’re great, agencies, corporations, small businesses all operate like clockwork with members serving highly specialized, irreplaceable functions.
Keep it fresh
Regardless of which of the four origin stories is true, the ice cream sundae is over a hundred years old. Schroeder has banned boring sundaes and instead trademarked the word “Saturdaes.” Every product and menu item High Road creates is in an effort to improve upon the centuries—if not millennium—old art of ice cream.
This need to be on the custard cusp is the reason High Road plans to open a plant in Bangkok, where the dairy industry is exploding and teenagers actually hang out in flavored milk bars. The goal is to be local everywhere in the world (also known as “glocal”). It’s not much of a stretch to apply this philosophy of currentness to any industry, including digital marketing. It’s not enough to motivate people to buy. Companies must also innovate.
We all enjoyed seeing the principles we preach every day—such as nurturing skilled employees and choosing to produce quality over quantity—in action within a totally different field and yielding results. Any business would benefit from taking a page out of Schroeder’s book with lessons such as sometimes its better to be less efficient; or, you never know when a networking experience will pay off. It’s all about being human and authentic at High Road. Our visit was a great reminder to never lose sight of that. Oh, and the ice cream is phenomenal.
High Road is a company run the right way. We see big things up ahead for Schroeder and his company, and we really appreciate him taking the time to speak to us on Friday. We wish him and his team the best!