Becky Forbis happily chats away with her sister-in-law, Polka Dot Cow Creamery owner Marnie Forbis, as she fills a waffle cone with a perfect twist of pineapple and vanilla soft-serve. The mobile soft-serve shop opened its doors June 13 and it’s given Becky a whole new purpose in life.
“It feels really rewarding for me to be able to be productive again,” she said.
Just by looking at her, you’d never know that she’d experienced a life-altering stroke seven years prior, one that nearly robbed her of her ability to speak.
“I’ve always been very, very social and so not being able to communicate was really, really hard to do,” Becky said. Directly following her stroke in November of 2011, her speech was reduce to a single word — “I.” Doctors told her to go home and consider taking up gardening.
But Becky, then 49, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Her research led her to the University of Montana’s Big Sky Aphasia Program, which offered six-week rehabilitative treatment programs for people suffering from aphasia — a language disorder as result of brain injuries or tumors.
After three, six-week sessions, Becky regained her ability to speak. So when she and Marnie decided to open the Polka Dot Cow, they knew that giving back would be part of their mission. Five percent of net proceeds and all tips from soft-serve sales will go directly to the Bonnie Kraut Memorial Aphasia Fund to help support others entering the Big Sky Aphasia Program.
“When someone gives you your language back for free, how do you repay that? How can you?” Becky said. “I would like to see this scholarship grow in perpetuity.”
To keep herself busy, Becky works at the creamery, dishing out delicious summertime treats in Bigfork, and at special events.
Marnie said they wanted to fill a void in the Flathead Valley for mobile soft-serve, and bring their own flair to the local dessert market. Their signature offering is Dole whip — a low-calorie, pineapple-based soft-serve that was exclusive to Disney resorts and Hawaii until just a few years ago.
“Two years ago they let loose the formula,” Marnie said. “It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan — it’s also like half the calories of regular ice cream. We wanted to have something that no one else had.”
They also offer traditional vanilla and a host of toppings, including chocolate, caramel, huckleberries, unicorn sprinkles, coconut and more. Some of their most unique concoctions are the Luau Cow — Dole whip soft-serve with fruit, macadamia nuts and white chocolate, and the Big Gary — a waffle cone ladened with peanut butter and chocolate, vanilla soft-serve and finished with peanuts.
The business has been a dream of Marnie’s, who hopes her venture will help fund her retirement. But the journey to entrepreneurship hasn’t been smooth sailing. The creamery generator broke down mere hours after they had purchased it, potentially putting the brakes on her dream almost come true.
Ron Pancoast of All Tech Electric in Bigfork saved the day, by offering to loan the two budding businesswomen a generator for the summer.
“He’s been nice enough to drag it up here every day and bring it back every night,” Marnie said. “He’s essentially a partner now, he’s getting paid in ice cream.”
“He’s been a guardian angel,” Becky added.
They’re accepting help and paying it forward in return, with hopes of making life a little sweeter for each customer that comes their way.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Polka Dot Cow Creamery
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week
Location: Behind Park Side Credit Union and the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce on Montana 35 in Bigfork. The creamery also travels for special events. For the most up-to-date location information, follow the Polka Dot Cow on Facebook or call 406-260-5862.
Upcoming events: Polson Main Street Cherry Festival, July 20-21; Flathead Lake 3 on 3 basketball tournament, Polson, July 27-28 and the Bigfork Festival of the Arts, Aug. 3-4.