top of page
  • katie

Evolution, with Grace

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

The success of Ma Ada’s Water Ice is a meditation on the power of community investment: personally, emotionally, and financially.

The West Center City of today is quite a bit different from the one that Miss Ada encountered when she first arrived in Wilmington as a young girl from rural northern Maryland.

Back then, the area around Grace Church was far more industrial. Several leather tanning factories dominated the skyline, and were where local residents could find decent pay for their daily labor, regardless of education level. Though racial tensions were present, the viability of the working-class community was strong. It was a vibrant existence, and young Ada began to adjust to the rhythm of her new urban life.

Then the assassinations happened. First, President Kennedy. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. soon after. The tensions that had slowly simmered just below the surface in Wilmington began to boil over. And America’s response to the protests began an unprecedented urban military occupation that forced Ada and her friends to comply with strict curfews, restricted movements through the neighborhood, and very little opportunity to just be.

During those trying times, Cohen Brothers Furniture and Grace Church provided refuge to area teens. Community members rallied together and got both locations to agree to house social activities: Cohen Brothers Furniture on Madison Street for the boys, Grace Church for the girls. They were able to hold dances and other gatherings, away from the eyes of the National Guard.

Ada’s participation in the first cohort of the Wilmington Kitchen Collective is what you might call a full-circle moment. Their new commercial kitchen facility is located in the basement of the same Grace Church that greeted her as a girl. A safe, welcoming place for her to learn and grow, still.

Ma Ada’s Water Ice is an evolving business model that carries a sense of history, community, and fellowship similar to her childhood experience at those Grace Church dances.

A former co-worker, who suggested that he and Ada go into a food business together, initially wanted to sell steamed crabs. But Ada’s palate preferred water ice to seafood, so she trusted her gut and developed her idea instead. She began providing refreshment vending at activities hosted at a local community center, surprised that no other businesses had done so prior.

Some assistance with necessary licensing allowed Ada to expand her business to other local festivals and concerts, as well as private events. This also prompted her to enlist family members and neighborhood children as helpful assistants. The children were learning entrepreneurial skills, while hanging out with their friends and earning some money in the process. Recently retired, Ada transitioned her water ice business into a booming second career, providing some of the same refuge that had been extended to her in her youth.

But, life happens. In 2019, Ada’s husband passed away after an extended illness. And soon after, COVID-19 stilled any momentum she had been making in growing her enterprise.

It was a time to reflect and reassess.

A friend informed Ada about the Wilmington Kitchen Collective, and she was able to apply and get accepted for the final open slot in the initial cohort. The Collective’s support has allowed Ada to strengthen her business model, in preparation for the restart of large public gatherings. Access to the commercial kitchen will be a huge lift in her company’s food prep resources, allowing her to expand her menu to more hot food items, to accompany her delicious sweet treat.

"I have lived in the city of Wilmington all my life and would like to continue to be an inspiration for others to achieve their business goals too."

Ada smiles when she speaks of the possibilities she envisions for her spring and summer business. She’s eating a plant-based diet now, and looks forward to customers leaving her stand double-fisted this year: water ice in one hand, meatless burger in the other. The children assisting with sales. A food truck opportunity in the near future.

Making Wilmington a happier place, one bite at a time.

For more information on the Kitchen Collective’s mission, partner organizations, and other resources, visit them online at

171 views0 comments


bottom of page