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Fiery Ice Cream Pitch Gets Sizzling Exposure on National TV

by on April 14, 2015 2:40 PM

After three long months, David Letterman can finally talk about his starring role in a national television program that aired Monday evening.

And he's got a lot to say about his time in front of the cameras.

"It was an amazing experience," he gushes after his appearance on "Food Fortunes" a reality-style show produced for the Food Network.

Letterman was introduced as the owner of a company with a "hot take on ice cream." In the end, the program didn't end the way Letterman hoped, (more on that in a moment) but he is happy with the exposure he got.

Letterman is the man behind "Spice Cream" -- a spicy brand of ice cream that's now on sale at Weis and Wegman's super markets in the State College area.

Letterman, who runs Bonfatto's restaurant in Bellefonte, started out selling a variety of hot sauces. It wasn't long before he hit on the idea for using hot sauce to spice up ice cream.

If you haven't seen "Food Fortunes," the show works like this: business owners pitch their products to a panel of business experts who run major food-related companies. The "contestants" explain how much money they need to expand their businesses, -- and -- how much of their companies they're willing to sell, in exchange for financing. If someone on the panel of business experts likes a product, they try to negotiate a deal.

The show was taped last January and Letterman couldn't tell anyone what happened until after the program aired.

He sat down with Tuesday morning to talk about what viewers didn't see -- all the behind-the-scenes action.

On the day of the shoot, the cameras weren't scheduled to roll until after 1 p.m. So, Letterman put the morning hours to good use. "I had a lot of time in the morning to rehearse everything," he says. Letterman, who admits to being a little nervous, worked with another business owner who was also appearing on the show.

"We went out in the courtyard of our hotel and just pitched our products and gave the pitches to each other and that helped a lot."

Once at the studio, Letterman was assigned to a trailer with some of the other business owners. That led to more off-camera rehearsals. "We did our pitches to each other just to practice it and kind of encouraged each other because we knew it wasn't a competition against each other. It was more or less a competition to get investors."

They had a lot of time to prepare because shooting the hour-long TV show took longer than you might expect. "There was a lot of sitting around time to start with, recalls Letterman, adding, "the whole process took over nine hours from the time we got to the studio to the time we left."

Finally, Letterman was ready for his big entrance. "The most nerve wracking time of the whole thing was standing there, by myself, with the doors (to the set) closed," he says.

"They said okay, ready to come on. The doors opened up a little bit and then stuck," Letterman recounts. "So they had to reset. And I was just getting more nervous."

When the doors did open, Letterman says he was ready to go. "I gave my pitch the first time through without any stuttering. I remembered everything. I thought I did a great job with the pitch."

The pitch was supposed to be less than two minutes long. Letterman says he did it in one minute and 54 seconds. Letterman told the investors he was willing to trade a 20 percent stake in his business in exchange for $75,000 in financing.

Up on the panel, the business experts tasted Letterman's Spice Cream. "Oh my goodness, the pepper in that," one exclaimed, before adding, "That works. This is worlds apart from what anyone knows ice cream to be."

Audience members were asked whether they would purchase Spice Cream themselves. Sixty-eight percent said "yes." Unfortunately for Letterman, the business experts said no.

They seemed disappointed when Letterman said he'd only sold $9,000 worth of Spice Cream so far. And there were questions about the packaging. One investor said there was "a lot going on" with the colorful Spice Cream containers.

Panel members suggested Letterman concentrate on the line of hot sauces he also sells, before trying to find a bigger audience for his icy-hot treat.

"You really didn't get to see the whole story," Letterman says of the TV show taping. "When they questioned the packaging I said, 'I'm willing to work with you on the packaging.'"

In the end, none of the investors was willing to take a chance on Spice Cream. Letterman says he was a little discouraged at first but that was only temporary.

"When I did not get an investor I felt like I let everybody here down," says Letterman, referring to his family and employees. "I'm hoping that there are positives coming out of the show. That's how I turned it around. I didn't get an investor but there's national exposure. Maybe there's going to be other doors that open."

For now, with the weather heating up, Letterman and his son-in-law, Chris Hane, will go to work making more Spice Cream.

Letterman says he'll also look into making a deal with a national ice cream manufacturer.

But for now, he's planning to push his line-up of hot sauces as the business experts recommended. Those hot sauces include some distinctive names, including "Bonfatto's Original", "Fire in the Hole and Apple Pepper Jack." Letterman says he just delivered a 10,000 bottle of order of hot sauce to distributor a in the United Kingdom.

But for now, his TV experience is still cause for excitement.

"It was a blast. What an experience," says Letterman. "I'd do that again in a minute."



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Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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