‘Friends since elementary school, they each had ties to working in education.’
Jackson Smith and Wes Jones have been friends since second grade. The pair attended the same elementary, middle, and high schools, and even went to college together. They met Khatera Ballard in their early adult years, when she married one of their high school friends. They each began their careers on different paths. After attending Harvard University for her graduate studies, Ballard aspired to a career in higher education. Smith enjoyed writing, taught school in China for two years, and knew he wanted to use his creativity in a future career. Jones said he jokingly longed for a future in sports. “I wanted to be a basketball player, but my height and skills didn’t match up,” he said, laughing. “So I majored in business and began working for Teach for America.”
‘I basically talked my way into a job with a leader in the Gelato business.’
After leaving China, Smith moved to New York City in 2010 and began working as a tutor for the No Child Left Behind program, while searching for a permanent job. Finding work in the economic downturn was difficult and after applying and never hearing from hundreds of postings, Smith saw an ice cream production manager position on a local job board. Though he had an interest in the food industry, Smith did not have a culinary background, making him a long shot to receive a response to his application. To stand out, he filled the cover letter with his personality, including his wit and a hint of sarcasm. He was shocked when he received an interview and ultimately the job.
‘We always knew we’d go into business together.’
It was at this time that Jones and Smith continued a discussion they’d been having since they were teenagers – going into business together. They studied the marketplace and quickly realized there was no one in the Southeast making gelato that was comparable to Smith’s. That’s when they approached Ballard with the idea and the three of them composed a well-researched, comprehensive business plan. Recognizing the opportunity, Ballard moved to Atlanta, Jones left his job, and, along with Smith, they began their own manufacturing company, making craft gelato.
‘He called me and said, “Honeysuckle,” and hung up the phone.’
Struggling to come up with a name for their new company, Smith was determined to find a word that represented sweet, fresh, a sense of nostalgia, and the South. Inspiration came in a telephone call one day. “I answered the phone and this voice on the other line said, ‘Honeysuckle,’ and then the line cut off,” Jones said. “I immediately knew that was the name.”
In 2011, Jones, Smith, and Ballard launched Honeysuckle Gelato by simultaneously opening a food truck and also becoming a small-batch manufacturer, selling direct to chefs in Atlanta restaurants. From the beginning they believed they could use their food truck to gather instant feedback. By doing so, they were able to test new flavors and gauge interest and then turn around and create the more well-received flavors for larger distribution.