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Fighting to end human trafficking, one scoop at a time

Tara VanWagoner

With flavors like Almond ‘Bout that Base' and Join the MoveMINT, Cone Appétit couples a joyful treat with a mission to end human trafficking.
Some people crave ice cream. Tara VanWagoner, the founder of Cone Appétit, wakes up at 5 a.m. with the urge to make it. Experimenting and concocting various homemade ice cream treats was always a mother-daughter tradition for VanWagoner when she was young, but it was not until after VanWagoner moved to Grand Rapids three years ago that this fun bonding activity turned into a passionate business proposal.

One day while she was driving around Grand Rapids, VanWagoner had the craving to make some ice cream. After buying a bunch of ingredients and researching French-style ice cream, VanWagoner crafted a coconut-pineapple flavor. That same night, VanWagoner woke up at 4 a.m. with a vision of a storefront where kids could run around and families could enjoy delicious, homemade ice cream together. As soon as this vision popped in her head, VanWagoner could not stop thinking about it nor go back to sleep. A list of fun flavors with catchy names to match flooded her head and after an hour of brainstorming, VanWagoner decided to run out to Meijer at 5 a.m. to get ingredients and started making Kona Mud Pie and Almond ‘Bout that Base.

Chocolate is prepared before being made into ice cream.

Following this surprising wake-up call, VanWagoner started testing out new flavors and giving them out to people for feedback. As the demand and praise for her tasty flavors grew, VanWagoner decided to take action. Instead of dreaming about owning an “ice cream shop someday,” VanWagoner asked herself, "Why not do it now?"

Before she threw herself into the world of ice cream, though, VanWagoner was conflicted; she had another passion to “abolish human trafficking and raise awareness” of the issue, says VanWagoner. After working with the organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for three years and volunteering to help women in the red light district of Paris, where she was “face-to-face with prostitutes and those caught in trafficking,” VanWagoner developed a love for these women and wanted to help set them free.

Ingredients are mixed together before being pasteurized.

VanWagoner decided to combine her two passions by donating 15 percent of Cone Appétit’s proceeds to help support Exodus Cry, an organization that fights human trafficking. “Buying and eating ice cream to fight something so heavy is significant. Ice cream is so joyful and I think there’s something to be said about joyfully giving and participating in something greater than ourselves,” says VanWagoner.

Because human trafficking is everywhere, VanWagoner wants to shed light onto this important, global issue. Abolishing human trafficking is crucial because it not only “frees people from slavery, but also saves hearts, whether it’s the victims, pimps, or Johns,” says VanWagoner. By raising awareness of this issue, VanWagoner hopes to change common misconceptions of sex and the sex trade in American culture.

After pasteurization and freezing, ice cream is ready to sell, eat, and fight human trafficking.

Not only is it vital for VanWagoner to have a purpose for making ice cream, but she also believes in the importance of making everything from scratch. “I love making ice cream because I love creating something with my hands for people to enjoy. I love creating flavors and different things people have never tasted before,” says VanWagoner.

Although coming up with the perfect recipes is no easy feat, VanWagoner is honored to be on this journey that allows her to make a difference in the world. “If I didn’t have this passion to fight this global issue, I’d have given up by now,” says VanWagoner. “I want people to experience Cone Appétit because it’s not just delicious, but it’s an invitation to something beautiful. Once you purchase or eat it, you’re forever a part of the story, a part of the fight to end human trafficking.”

Inspired by people, places, and past memories, Cone Appétit’s 28 and counting flavors can be found at Grand Central Market, Le Bon Macaron, and Martha’s Vineyard. Be on the lookout this summer for Cone Appétit’s bike around town and at the Fulton Street Farmers Market, where you can sample new creations or try VanWagoner’s favorites, Join the MoveMINT and You’re Killin’ Me, S’mores.

Photography by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.
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