Austin vegan ice cream store Sweet Ritual decided to get creative during this time of social distancing by recreating the sweets shop virtually inside still-hit video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Just like baking bread and growing windowsill scallions, the Nintendo Switch video game offered much-desired refuge and distraction during the novel coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place orders. That’s what the game provided for Sweet Ritual co-owner Amelia Raley: “It was a great way to deal with the stress of closing up our shop and our factory,” she explained. Sweet was temporarily closed for two weeks in March. “Between being on phone calls and Zoom meetings with lawyers, SBA bankers, and other local entrepreneurs, having my island to work on was a welcome respite.”
In Animal Crossing, Raley and her boyfriend messed around with ice cream designs and managed to recreate the Sweet Ritual logo. “We had to laugh: ‘What if we build out the actual shop?’” Raley recounted. “The game has the exact soft-serve lamps that we have in our store.” And so they decided to build a virtual Sweet Ritual through the game.
The digital Sweet Ritual is based off the Airport Boulevard location. The counter featured fruits representing ice cream flavors, such as peaches and cherries, and there’s a deep freezer and milkshake mixer. There are servers with colorful aprons, tables and seats, and candy machines.
At first, Raley didn’t have enough soft-serve lamp design colors, only three of the eight available. She put a call out for additional colors on the shop’s Instagram page. She shared her code, which would allow people to visit the island (called St. Andrew, after the Catholic patron saint of fishermen; fishing is a popular activity in the game), so that they could visit and trade items.
“Within the hour, I had several visitors and all eight lamp colors,” Raley said, as well as candy machines, a diner table, and other dessert-centric dining items. Artist Aaron Flynn, who had painted Sweet Ritual’s mural, contributed ponies for the play area.
“When guests would leave the island,” said Raley, they would send her Instagram messages writing, “‘Thanks for letting me visit! I miss your shop so much, but it was fun to at least see it virtually. Stay safe and we’ll see you before long.’”
Whenever Raley opens up her Animal Crossing island to visitors, she’ll share the code on Sweet’s Instagram page. She also hopes that other local Austin businesses will follow her lead and create virtual iterations, such as East Austin salon Cute Nails, toy shop Toy Joy, and boutique Take Heart, follow her lead.
Raley noted that the shop received its Payroll Paycheck Protection loan at the end of April, which allowed her to reopen for just curbside pickup orders (no dine-in service).