'Sweet' opportunities are ahead for this Black-owned ice cream shop in Sweet Auburn

Sweet Stack Creamery, a Black owned business located in the Historic Sweet Auburn District of Atlanta, has become well recognized by social media users for their "Sweet Stack" doughnuts, a sandwich compromised of ice cream in the center and a halfway cut glazed donut making up the top and bottom halves. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

What came first, the ice cream or the donut?

At least, that is the question most customers ponder when they first enter Sweet Stack Creamery, an ice cream shop in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn District.

The Black-owned business, celebrating its fifth anniversary next month, is classic ice cream served with a ‘sweet’ twist.

The prized item of the restaurant is the self-titled “Sweet Stack,” an ice cream sandwich assembled with a sliced donut making up the top and bottom halves, which is then heated on a hot oven grill and decorated with an assortment of toppings and sauces.

Needless to say, the “Stack,” also served with chocolate chip and sugar cookies, elicits a unique response from customers upon the first introduction.

“They are excited, curious, most get confused because they want to purchase the whole menu,” said employee Kahlia Rasheed. “A lot of them are super excited to try what we have because they have never seen anywhere else.”

No one is more excited to witness the excitement of customers than Troy Lawrence, the co-owner and operator of the restaurant.

“There is no better business to be in than ice cream,” he said. “You’re creating a fun experience for families and young adults in a safe environment where everyone can come together and have a good time.”

On top of the headlining dessert option, Sweet Stack has also gained notoriety for the unique tastes — and names — of its flavors.

The store’s top-selling flavor, “The Cookie Monster,” comprises blue vanilla, cookies and cream crumbles and chocolate oreo bites.

Other popular sellers include “Sweet Dreams,” a strawberry cheesecake blend, “Chocolate Fetish,” a chocolate ice cream mixed with chocolate flakes and fudge swirl and “Black Panther,” a combination of activated charcoal, coconut and vanilla wafers.

“The ice creams that we have and all of the toppings, what you can eat it on, it is as though there are never-ending options,” Rasheed said.

Lawrence came up with the idea for Sweet Stack in 2017 with colleague and co-owner Mohammed Taha. Both met as engineers working with Delta Airlines and, while coming up with ideas for businesses, became enthralled at the opportunity of doing “ice cream with a twist.”

Owners of Sweet Stack Creamery, Mohamed Taha and Troy Lawrence. (Photo courtesy of Troy Lawrence).

After a year and a half of assembling accommodations for distribution, property and marketing, Sweet Stack finally opened its doors in September 2018.

Due to its location on Georgia State’s campus and its flexible hours, open until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, the establishment immediately garnered a loyal following among students.

“The shop has its own personality,” said Rasheed. “The students come in and think, ‘This is the place where I want to be.’ There is something about the shop that is very genuine, and you can feel the love the moment you walk in.”

It was not until early 2020, however, amid a global pandemic, that the dessert shop emerged in an unexpected wave of sales from residents experiencing quarantine.

“I believe that there are still people living a life conscious of supporting Black business.”

Troy Lawrence, the co-owner and operator of Sweet Stack Creamery

“During the pandemic, the mayor at the time, Keisha Lance Bottoms, allowed many of the businesses of Atlanta to be declared as essential,” he said. “Even though we were not serving customers in-store, we were able to provide mobile orders through food services like Uber Eats, Grubhub and Doordash. That was very major for us.”

The satisfaction from mobile order customers extended onto social media, with many tagging photos of their “Sweet Stacks” on digital outlets such as Instagram and Facebook.

“In 2020, a lot of long-standing businesses in Atlanta closed down, and we are still going strong,” he said. “It is all because of the support of our customers. They tagged us online, shared our accounts with their friends, and let people know that if they wanted to enjoy some great ice cream and help to support a Black-owned business, we were the ones to go too.”

Sweet Stack staff member Kahlia Rasheed prepares one of the shops various ice cream flavors for incoming customers. (Kenny Murry/WABE).

In the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by law enforcement in Minnesota and a resurgence of Civil Rights protests throughout the country, Lawrence and his staff saw an additional increase in sales from Atlanta residents determined to support local Black-owned businesses.

“First and foremost, there were so many unfortunate circumstances targeting African American people at that time, and your heart really poured out for so many of the families affected,” he said. “As a community, we came together and started to change the narrative not just of how we should treat each other, but how other people should look at us.”

A social media initiative encouraging residents nationwide to “buy Black” on Tuesdays saw itself transcend into “Sweet Stack,” bringing in new customers that were more than happy to offer their patronage and promotion daily.

“We are very proud to be a Black-owned business,” Lawrence said. “The narrative shouldn’t be that black-owned is less than any other business owned by a different race.”

Two years after the “buy Black” movement gained popularity, Lawrence and staff still see online advocates coming in store to practice what they preach.

“I still see the wave of support standing, and it has proven to be more than just a fad,” he said. “I believe that there are still people living a life conscious of supporting Black business. Here in Atlanta, it is not surprising to turn around and see businesses run by someone who looks like us. It’s very inspirational seeing patrons coming out and not just supporting us, but other businesses as well succeed.”

Lawrence says that with the continuing exposure comes the growing dedication to providing top-quality service to customers who walk through the door, be it their first or fortieth visit.

“We need the resources and patronage of customers, but also, it is on our side as a business to make sure that we are living up to the expectations of our customers, if not exceed them,” he said..

A first-time customer, 17-year-old Alberto Jaimes, concurred that the shop offers customers an efficient and quality experience.

“It is a nice place, the food looks great, and everyone is pretty nice,” Jaimes said. “We just love it.”

On a road trip through Atlanta from Dallas, Texas, Jaimes’ mother discovered the shop online, and the family made it a priority to stop in to see the desserts for themselves.

“There is no better business to be in than ice cream.”

Troy Lawrence, the co-owner and operator of Sweet Stack Creamery

“We all kind of have a little bit of a sweet tooth, and once we saw the sandwiches, we thought it would be the perfect thing,” he said.

It is interactions like this that give Lawrence faith in expanding the brand of Sweet Stack with the plan to develop upcoming locations and continuing to transform it into a destination location for out-of-state visitors.

“I can definitely see us at the Mercedes Benz Stadium, or the Braves stadium, people enjoying ice cream while watching their favorite team win,” he said. “We want to continue to do new things. We want you to be able to think of the name ‘Sweet Stack’ and immediately feel as though you have something to look forward to.”