Bud Lawrence spent most of his adult life in the car business with his father, the late Frank Lawrence. Originally from Alabama, Bud followed his father to Augusta when his gregarious father purchased Bobby Jones Ford in 1991.
In 1999 his father started the Augusta Stallions, an Arena 2 Football League team and a few years later became co-owner of the Augusta Lynx professional hockey team. Bud was an integral part of the team and was able to hone his personal service skills in multiple large scale operations.
After his father’s passing in 2012, Bud took over the dealership. He ultimately decided the company needed the synergy that a larger local company, Gerald Jones Auto Group, could add to the Ford store. So, Bud and his family sold to Andy Jones after his mother’s passing a couple of years ago.
Bud and his wife Lisa opened Sweet Charlie’s Hand Rolled Ice Cream in September of last year next door to Sprouts on Walton Way Extension. The Philadelphia-born hand-rolled ice cream concept is but a pup at four years old and is already the nation’s largest hand rolled ice cream concept. It is certainly a far cry from the car business, but at the end of the day, there are more similarities than differences.
Watching Bud on a recent Friday afternoon as he prepared a treat for an excited ten year old girl, you would think it was his own child as he helped with her topping choices. He obviously loves kids, and his genuinely sweet disposition comes through to employees and customers alike.
“I really like what I do. I like it a lot,” Bud shared from a table tucked in the corner of the busy ice cream parlor.
“I don’t know why, but my whole perspective on young people is very different today and their eagerness to work, desire to do well, than maybe it was five years ago.”
Discussing his new venture keeps turning back to people. “But I am here to tell you that we’re OK. We’re OK. The experience that I’ve had, whether it’s a sixteen year old, a nineteen year old, a twenty three year old, has been really good. There are lots of people out there that are eager to work very hard. They’ll engage. That’s really been the biggest surprise.”
Stepping out from the known comfort zone of a lifelong career into the unknown comes with challenges, but Bud has enjoyed his new career. The hours are long, and as a hands on owner, “I’m working behind the counter everyday. Every day.”
The biggest challenge? “My 53 year old arms are really tired. When you get busy, literally you can sit there and roll ice cream for a couple of hours at a time. So you’re pressing, mixing, chopping, and it takes a big toll on your hands and your forearms. Particularly for me, I’m older than just about everyone there.”
About that ice cream, which is what drew him to the business opportunity in the first place.
“We draw the cream and pour it on the cold plate, and from there we start the flavor. If they want Oreo ice cream. It all starts as a vanilla base and we have a bunch of different things that we flavor with. All of our fresh fruit comes from Sprouts next door. Bananas, coconuts, strawberries, a big list. We have ten of our most popular flavors we post on a menu board, or you can imagine your own.”
Once the cream starts to freeze into ice cream the employees work it like a hibachi chef. “We spread it out into a square, get the spatula and start to roll it.” Our cream comes specifically designed for us. It really distinguishes us, really sets us apart.
“The ice plates run about minus twenty degrees, so it’s quick. In a couple of minutes it turns into ice cream. We don’t let it sit, we are mixing it which keeps it from complete contact on the surface. But because we are mixing and mashing it takes probably a couple of minutes. We spread it, roll it and put it in a cup.”
Next a host of tempting toppings give visitors another delicious round of options. Want a flame roasted marshmallow, ala Ned Flanders? You got it
“Younger kids they’ll put five or six different very unique combinations of toppings. We get a lot more than what we actually mix in the ice cream. We limit that to three items. If you have too much in the ice cream it becomes a big chunky mess.”
“All cereal Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch is actually pretty good. Sometimes we have some customers who are peanut butter lovers, we mix a lot of peanut butter into the ice cream. Then on top of that we’ll add more peanut butter as a topping. It’s a very good combo.”
A completely new line of work takes nerve at any stage in your career. With Bud it’s not the career he left behind, but more the friends. “I guess what I miss the most about being in the car business is the relationships with the 75-100 long term employees. When you build relationships with people you work with for a long-long time, customers that you work with for twenty five years…for me, I miss that a lot. But now at Sweet Charlies, you develop new relationships.”
630 Crane Creek Drive/Augusta
Open 7 Days