Mario Leite ’98 (CLAS) never imagined he’d combine his undergraduate molecular and cell biology degree with his MBA to become an award-winning ice cream maker. But that’s exactly what the UConn grad did after he lost his banking job in August 2011.
Newfound leisure time reconnected Leite to a longtime passion for ice cream-making. He added fresh-brewed Earl Grey tea to a childhood recipe and everyone who tried it loved it. Leite kept making more and increasing the circle of family and friends who sampled it. And then he had his “aha moment.”
“In October 2011, I saw an article in Family Circle about increasing trends in tea-infused foods and it all came together,” he says.
Making the first pint of Tearrific Ice Cream, however, proved difficult. The originality of Leite’s concept meant not many professionals in the industry knew how to infuse premium, all-natural ice cream with fresh-brewed tea.
Leite turned to the UConn Dairy Bar, where they helped him concoct a sweet cream base using natural dairy ingredients, sugar, and eggs.
At Tearrific’s Bridgeport facility, Leite and his wife, Souvannee Leite ’98 (BUS), learned how to make cold-pressed ginger juice, blueberry puree, and fresh-brewed teas to add with spices to the sweet cream base manufactured at Buck’s Ice Cream in Milford, Conn. The plant there is overseen by another alum, Chris Buck ’02 (BUS).
Just over a year after he was laid off, Mario and Souvannee launched their brand into retail, placing the Earl Grey and vanilla flavor called London Mist, Chunky London Mist with chocolate flakes and pecans, and two more flavors into 20 independent specialty stores.
Three years later, Tearrific Ice Cream is in more than 200 stores, including Whole Foods. And this spring, Union Central Exchange C-store in the Student Union at Storrs began selling 4 oz single-serve cups in three flavors: Ginger Matcha, Masala Chai, and Matcha Green Tea. The brand has won national awards, is on the brink of entering the international market, and recently added Matcha Green Tea to its list of flavors that includes both London Mists, as well as Ginger Matcha, Masala Chai, Lavender’s Blueberry, and Chamomile. But Leite says he is hungry for more.
“We want to be the global leader of tea-infused ice cream, and to have a space in most people’s freezers.”