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Face to Face: Big Dipper Ice Cream pivots during pandemic to reach customers

The Missoula Current has launched a new video series, Face to Face with Flora Lloyd, asking area businesses and professionals how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way they conduct business, and how it has forced them to adjust. This is the first installment featuring Charlie Beaton, owner of Big Dipper Ice Cream.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Big Dipper Ice Cream in Missoula was gearing up for its 25th anniversary, churning its creamy ice cream for the busy season ahead.

Now, several weeks into the pandemic, Big Dipper is working to recalibrate the way it does business by finding new ways to get its product out to its customers.

“On Monday, we started doing online and phone orders,” said Charlie Beaton, who founded Big Dipper more than two decades ago. “We’re also doing Uber Eats. We had that off and now we’ll turn it back on. We’ll try to transition back to scooping at some point when more restrictions are lifted.”

The coronavirus pandemic has hit local businesses hard. Many have been forced to close under directives from the state and local health department, furloughing workers along the way.

Beaton said Big Dipper had to release most of its workers, though it kept a handful on staff.

“Our ice cream maker is still working,” Beaton said. “She’s making ice cream for grocery stores. We had to shut down for a few weeks, and now we’re gradually coming back a little bit.”

With other spring and summer events on hold in Missoula and across the state, Big Dipper has idled its iconic ice cream truck. The wholesale side of its businesses also has slowed, Beaton said.

But Big Dipper has also found ways to pivot, and it has partnered with other businesses including Bridge Pizza, which is selling Big Dipper pints with its delivery orders.

“It feels to me like you really feel this nice, small community working together where other businesses are mentioning each other on Instagram and Facebook and things like that,” Beaton said. “It’s all changing pretty rapidly. We’re trying to ramp things up a little bit.”