a’Ron Burns is on a Roll: North Omaha Teen Churns Sweet SuccessAug 29, 2022 04:17PM ● By Julius Fredrick
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Openly or not, most Omaha natives concede the historic “Gateway to the West” moniker remains a visible, filigreed part of the metro’s urban fabric; North and South Omaha on the fringes, comparatively overlooked for westward development.
While community leaders have rallied around this issue for decades—with many noting the 2022 appointment of Veta Jeffery to the Greater Omaha Chamber’s presidency a strong statement on the matter—it’s a member of North Omaha’s youth who’s flourished the needle and set to work; his contributions not only layered and enticing, but much like his career, spun from scratch.
“The difference with rolled ice cream is that it’s homemade, it’s not made in a plant or brought in on a truck,” explained a’Ron Burns, co-founder and COO of Burns Family LLC. As of June 11, 2022, a’Ron added another title—proprietor of the country’s debut Roll-N-Sweetz Rolled Ice Cream shop. “We’re crafting it in front of our customers, for our customers.”
At 17 years old, a’Ron recently began his senior year at Central High School, balancing a hefty course load with the duties incumbent upon Nebraska’s youngest restaurateur.
“We work with certain OPS and after-school programs, and when they hear that I’m still in school too, still in K-12, they gasp,” a’Ron said. “It really motivates them.”
With a slender frame, easy stride, and boyish features, Burns initially appears out of step with the adults—pumice-jawed contractors and seesaw-browed health inspectors among them—surveying his parlor at 59th and Ames Avenue.
This surface impression quickly evaporates. His outstretched hand shoos away any doubt of professionalism with a firm handshake; any concern regarding his business acumen hushed by tactful speech.
The enterprising teen has been studying more than his textbooks.
“I was at home every single night, underneath my bed listening to e-books,” a’Ron recalled, “listening to probably the most influential figure of my life: Ray Kroc with McDonald’s, his story, everything about it, just drives me.”
Between plotting the financial trajectory of Kroc’s golden arches, honing his leadership skills at a rolled ice cream shop downtown, and experiencing the full lifecycle of his peak-pandemic e-commerce store, a’Ron felt braced to strike out on his own.
“I’ve been choosing my vision, my dream,” a’Ron said, remembering his apprehension and excitement prior to taking the leap, “I think that it started with embracing change.”
Entrepreneurship is really just a 10-dollar word for building relationships—ideally, profitable ones. Luckily, a’Ron’s had a staunch ally by his side for over 17 years and counting: his loving mother, Alexis Burns.
Alexis spared no expense to stoke her son’s flash-fire ambition, not even her 401k. However, during Roll-N-Sweetz’ nascency, a series of snags threatened to tear the dream, and potentially the household, apart.
Overcast with doubt, they reached for the phone. Clouds parted with a click when North Omaha financial coach and Budget to Success CEO Nicka Johnson lifted the receiver.
“I know what it’s like to work hard. I know what it’s like to to want to break those barriers,” Johnson said. “When we had that conversation, and she broke down crying and said, ‘I want to do this for my son, you know, this is really for my son, and I want to support him and his dreams,’ I knew that’s all that mattered. Seeing her determination…I made sure I did whatever I could to support them.”
Under Johnson’s guidance, Alexis stacked enough credit to reach for a desk-anchored pen and sign a business loan. Unfortunately, a soured contracting deal brought the company’s momentum to a screeching, heart-breaking stop.
“I would just put on, like, gospel music, and I would just make a prayer every single night, ‘God, God please…’ a’Ron reflected, “then one night, my mom couldn’t take it anymore…she had to exhaust all her credit cards; no revenue, nothing coming in. That perfect credit score she’d worked for...down the drain…we were done for, financially.”
That’s when Johnson made a call of her own. This time, Empowerment Network Founder and President Willie Barney answered.
“At a very young age, he didn’t just work at a place, he learned the operations, he took the time to study, learn research, and then he was able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to put my business plan together,’” Willie said, seated with his wife, Yolanda, and the Rev. Drs. Martin and Lynnell Williams of Ambassadors Worship Center—the right angles of North Omaha’s restored fiscal cornerstone, the Carver Legacy Center. “He’s a sharp, brilliant, young man.”
“We’re really putting a new, contemporary spin on something from our culture…‘It takes a village,’ Lynnell added, “and we see North Omaha as a corridor for that...if we’re apart from each other, we can’t make the impact we need.”
Following a sequence of meetings—many spent fine-tuning a’Ron’s self-proposed 10-year expansion plan—Roll-N-Sweetz ultimately received $95,000 via Carver Legacy, which allowed the young Kroc aspirant to pack and wrap his business with essential equipment and renovations. Shortly thereafter, he cut the ribbon and shared his gift with the public.
“A few close people really brought my dream into their dream…and we really think this is going to be our next step,” a’Ron said, the patchwork of community effort revealing, at last, the rich tapestry he’d envisioned for years. “When you’re in this space, there’s no roadblocks, you’re with all the people that can help you.”
“It’s just generational curses being broken,” he said.
Visit rollnsweetz.com for more information
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.