Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream, a signature and beloved Alamance County business with stores in three downtown areas, is for sale.
Alamance County Superior Court Judge Tom Lambeth and Amy Nakhle, co-founders of the business in 2002, made the tough decision to sell due to changing life circumstances, time constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic. They are looking for a potential owner interested in keeping the community spirit and legacy of Smitty’s Homemade alive. Smitty’s has thriving locations in Burlington, Graham and Elon in addition to catering and wholesale services.
Nakhle, who is the sister of Lambeth’s late wife Susan, said the time had come to sell due to multiple circumstances.
“It’s a two-way thing. The biggest reason besides the COVID factor, which all small businesses are facing now, is that I have an aging father who is in declining health,” Nakhle said. “I can no longer run a company with three stores to it and prepare to make the life transition to care for my father.
“The other thing is we’re in COVID just like other small businesses. It’s been tough going this year. It’s not something that I’m going to have the energy to put into next year with my father being in the condition he’s in,” Nakhle added. “We thought this is a good time to find someone to carry on the Smitty’s legacy.”
Time is another factor for Lambeth. When he and Nakhle started the business, he had a law practice and served on the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education. His election to district court judge 13 years ago is much more time-consuming. Three years ago he was elected as a superior court judge. He hasn’t been able to devote much help toward operations at Smitty’s.
“This was an entrepreneurial venture that we had a vision for and have been very excited to be a big part of our community for 18 years,” Lambeth said. “My situation changed when I got on the bench 13 years ago. I had to be much more of a silent partner. I don’t have the time to get in there and help Amy with the day-to-day things that need to be done. She’s been toting the whole load for a long time now and I thought she needed more of a working partner than I can be. She needs to go in a different direction in her life right now.”
Smitty’s became a fixture in Alamance County almost since opening at its first location on South Church Street in Burlington in 2002. It became a popular go-to spot for sundaes, banana splits and premium homemade ice cream using locally sourced ingredients. At the moment, for example, Smitty’s is offering seasonal varieties like pumpkin pie, gingerbread and peppermint stick ice cream. It moved from the original location to the Elon Pandora’s Pies site on Williamson Avenue in 2012. They later opened a location on North Main Street in Graham and in 2017 opened its flagship store on Front Street in Burlington.
Smitty’s has been a fixture at community events, fund-raisers and Elon University athletics, selling ice cream from its mobile cart. Building community was a goal when they started the business. Nakhle and Lambeth want to see it continue under new ownership.
“This is a good business opportunity for someone who wants to step into something that’s already established. We’re proud of the relationship we have with the community,” Lambeth said. “We don’t want to see it disappear. Alamance County would be very sad not to have Smitty’s. And downtown Burlington is close to taking off. If COVID hadn’t come, it already would.
“We’ve upfitted three locations, three buildings ready to be walked into,” Lambeth added. “It’s a good situation for somebody and would be a great situation if not for COVID.”
Nakhle said a local buyer would be optimum but not mandatory.
“I would be thrilled if we have a local buyer because they would understand the history of Smitty’s in this community. We have been woven into the fabric of this community. Smitty’s is a place for connections.We’re now hiring people who were potty trained on our ice cream. Their memories were established at Smitty’s. It would mean a lot to me and to both of us,” Nakhle said. “But we’re willing to consider offers from others who would like to relocate to this area. Alamance County has a lot to offer and we believe they could thrive here.”
Lambeth believes it’s the perfect business for two people who can devote equal time to the daily operations. “It’s important to us that we have the right buyer, someone who has the passion for it that we have had,” he added.
With the potential promise of a COVID-19 vaccine in the next few weeks and months along with the approach of winter, Nakhle said this is a good time for an interested buyer to step forward, get in the business and learn the ropes before the return of warm weather and heavy customer traffic.
“When we hit spring and those first warm days it just goes from 10 miles an hour to 100 miles an hour. It’s a lot harder to learn the business that way,” Nakhle said. “This is the time to jump in. It’s a great time to really become familiar with the business.”