If you travel through Burnstown during the warm summer months, you will probably take note of a line-up of cars parked outside what has become one of the most sought-after ice cream shops in the region: Café Laurent. Here, Laurent Coulibaly makes his delicious ice creams from scratch, and is dedicated to revolutionizing the ice cream industry, one cone at a time.
A conversation with Laurent is a study in juxtapositions – you never know what you will learn next about this cheerful entrepreneur who has made the small community of Burnstown his home.
The first question that comes up is how did a geologist from Africa end up here, making ice cream in the Valley? The answer makes sense, in a convoluted way. With an exotic sounding accent that hints of a global and interesting background, Laurent explained his experience in geology has just paved the way to creating truly excellent ice cream.
After moving to Canada from Africa in 2007, Laurent and his family were interested in exploring some of the truly Canadian experiences we all know and love, like skiing. The family fell in love with skiing, and spent many lovely winter days at Calabogie Peaks exploring the mountain and honing their skills.
This was great news for the Ottawa Valley, because skiing is what inspired him to set up shop here.
From Skiing to Ice Cream
“Driving to Calabogie Peaks, on the way you have to drive past Burnstown,” Laurent said. “Eventually we decided maybe we should find somewhere to live in Calabogie, instead of driving back and forth…in 2016 the property in Burnstown came on the market, and it was formerly an ice cream shop. Most of the machines were pretty new, and we kept them, and the year after I decided to go back to university for ice cream.”
As it turns out, Ontario’s Guelph university is one of only three ice cream universities in the world (who knew?), with the other two located in the U.S. and Italy, respectively. It was in Guelph that Laurent learned the ins and outs of ice cream making, training alongside people from all over the world, from Japan, Brazil, Norway, and beyond.
For anyone who has ever wondered what an ‘African ice cream’ would taste like, Laurent’s ice cream is one way to find out. At the Café, Laurent creates ice cream that has a blend of flavours and ingredients that is unique to his shop, and literally can’t be found anywhere else.
“The ice cream on the shelf at the grocery store can stay on the shelf for a couple of years,” Laurent pointed out, explaining that he wanted to expand on his training from Guelph and create ice cream that uses no preservatives. In the process, Laurent turned ice cream making into an art form, and one that he’s happy to share with his customers.
Home in the Valley
When not making ice cream, Laurent is content to explore the outdoors in the Valley, a region and country he’s happy to call home.
“I was really impressed when I came to Canada. The first border patrol person I met was a woman, and she said “Welcome to Canada.” I had never seen that before, and I had travelled all over the world.”
Of the Valley itself, and his customers, Laurent is happy to sing their praises. An article published last year created a rush of visitors to his store, including one who flew to Ontario from Nova Scotia, and another who flew from Newfoundland. Both were keen to meet Laurent and sample his ice cream.
The attraction to this part of Ontario is nothing new to Laurent.
“It is so beautiful here, especially in the fall, when you drive along the Madawaska River to Calabogie…the people here are really nice."