UT helped Colleen Cruze Bhatti churn her dreams into profits. Now she supports future entrepreneurs.
Colleen Cruze Bhatti (‘11) grew up on a Knoxville dairy farm her parents started in 1980. Cruze Farm products are sold in local markets, mom-and-pop grocery stores, and food cooperatives throughout East Tennessee, as well as Whole Foods in Chattanooga and Nashville. Today, Cruze is the only Knoxville dairy farm with its own cows and milk plant.
“I grew up selling my family’s homemade ice cream at the Knox County farmer’s market,” she says. “I fell in love with selling ice cream. It makes people smile and creates happy memories.”
While Bhatti studied agricultural science at UT, she crafted a business plan to add ice cream to the Cruze Farm product line. That plan won a $5,000 first prize in 2011 at the Graves Undergraduate Business Competition hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“Winning the competition gave my Dad confidence in me to keep the dairy business going,” she says. “I think when he saw that the Anderson Center had confidence in me, it gave him confidence too.”
Her prize money paid for pint containers. Bhatti added a pallet of branded ice cream pints and lids and spent the summer churning ice cream.
“I worked so hard the first summer after graduation. I was still proving myself,” she says.
In 2016, Bhatti debuted a milk bar food truck and summer pop-up shops, which led to the 2017 opening of Cruze Farm at Asbury, a permanent, year-round ice cream and coffee shop.
Those real-life lessons of hard work and perseverance are something she strives to share with future entrepreneurs at UT through the Anderson Center. “I love speaking with students,” she says. “I’ve spoken to several business classes and always talk about being passionate in your work. I also hire many UT students and love giving them jobs that allow them to grow.
“We make mistakes, wipe away tears, and try again. Building a business can be emotional. UT has been a great help to me. Talking to students really brings it full circle.”
Kelsey Watson, a senior in kinesiology, has worked for Bhatti for a year and says the experience gives her and her co-workers newfound confidence.
“She teaches us that we are strong, intelligent, accomplished young women,” Watson says. “She builds up this determination in us to be more fearless, to believe in ourselves more, to just go out and do it. She isn’t afraid of hard work and goes after everything she wants in life. All of us at Cruze Farm look up to her. She is the definition of an influential female role model.”
Bhatti and her husband, Manjit, have opened a pizza barn and hope to open a permanent ice cream store in downtown Knoxville.
“We are not just a dairy farm,” Bhatti says. “We are a movement inspiring women all over the world that we can work hard and make all our dreams come true.
“Growing up on a dairy farm taught me how to work hard. I love creating a fun workplace that demands hard work so others can learn how to work. Through hard work and commitment, anything is possible. I like to live by this and encourage my employees to do the same.”