We are longing for days spent in a tropical paradise but the memories of travel lingers with us for a long time. We know that certain sights, smells and tastes can bring us back to our happy place. If I close my eyes I can still hear the gentle waves and the music coming from the bbq shack on the beach. Island dreams may not be attainable now but there are little ways to bring a taste of the Caribbean home. If you grew up in, or travelled to, Trinidad & Tobago in past years, you may remember the flavourful “Sweet n’ Nice” ice creams? If you’re old enough, you may even recall Grandpa Neale peddling his bike loaded with his homemade cool treats. He would announce his arrival, “Sweet n’ Nice!”
Charles A. Neale, affectionately known as Grandpa Neale, began selling his tasty ice cream treats in the 1940’s in Trinidad. He had part-time work in the oil fields after WWII and told his daughter, Rosemarie, “every day is a spending day, I need money every day to feed my family”. He needed to find a way to continue to support his family. Then the inspiration came to him. With the abundance of natural fruits and ingredients came the idea to make and sell the best ice cream around but he had to learn how. Neale was determined to create the most loved ice cream flavours on the island not only for locals but for visitors alike.
When he started, he did it all. He created the recipes, mixed the flavours, worked with local farmers to access the ingredients. He then packaged and sold the ice cream himself. As the demand grew, he hired a small staff of four to help.
When his daughter Rosemarie immigrated to Canada, she kept his legacy by continuing his tradition of making ice cream from his recipes for family gatherings. Of course, they would reminisce and tell stories and the sweet flavours of the tropics had brought so much joy.
But Grandpa Neale wasn’t always a fun and games type of person, as pointed out by his daughter. He was a hard worker and often imparted practical advice to his family. Rosemarie tells us he had sayings that have stuck with her forever. “He never encouraged us to borrow things from our friends, or even lend out his tools. He would say, “eat less, drink less and buy your own”.
The word was getting around. Neale’s Sweet N Nice ice cream was within reach. In 2013, Rosemarie, along with her two nephews Andrew McBarnett and Stafford Attz, decided to get into the ice cream business bringing the tropical flavours to Canadians. In 2016, Rosemarie had retired from her job at Scotiabank and dedicated herself to growing the Sweet N Nice business.
It seemed like the right time to bring some of these tropical tastes to Canada. With global travellers and foodies leading the pack, flavours like mangoes and coconuts were already well-loved. Focused on using natural ingredients from the island brought next-level flavours in Grandpa Neale’s family recipes. “Coconut and Soursop were his signature flavours amongst others,” said Rosemarie. “Coconuts are bountiful on the island and readily available. Most people had a soursop plant in their backyards. Both could be eaten. We drank the thirst-quenching coconut water. The coconut milk together with the juice/puree of the soursop creates a very rich flavor and combines well with dairy.” And like her father, Rosemarie continues to be inspired to make the best ice cream available. She’s even developing new flavours. “The thought comes to combine this with that and I go to work on it.”
Of course, it helped when they were accepted to be featured on the hit television show, Dragon’s Den, which offers up entrepreneurs some exposure to their product or service. The show’s “dragons” also gave the ice cream dream team advice on how to grow their business in a highly competitive marketplace. “We were excited that we were finally able to get meaningful exposure. Our business was worth taking a second look at. This has helped to propel us forward.”
“We still meet people in Canada who, when they were younger and grew up in Trinidad knew Granddad and remember him giving them ice cream from his bike,” said Rosemarie.
It’s not just the image of Neale and his bike that brings up fond memories. For many, it’s the sweet and vibrant flavours that are unforgettable. Guava Passionfruit is my current refreshing go-to during the hot and humid days of summer. Try the tropical flavours your smoothies and elevate your banana splits for a cool treat.
Today, Neale’s Sweet N Nice flavourful ice cream is now available through many Caribbean specialty food shops and is rapidly expanding into larger grocery chains including Foodland, FreshCo, Sobey’s, and No Frills across the country.
Flavours that are currently available include Mango, Coconut, Rum and Raisin, Guava & Passionfruit, and Pineapple Coconut. But we’re told a Banana Chocolate variation featuring Trinidad Cocoa is on the horizon.
You can learn about the full history and where to find Neale’s Sweet N Nice ice cream here.
*Ice cream photos by Libby Roach