Seeing Good In Life After Great Loss

By:

Seeing Good In Life After Great Loss

These Bananas & Ice Cream scoops were the first Denise and Marshall Eason made in late summer 2016 with their “lucky dozen” ice-cream churners Marshall found in an end-of-season sale.
These Bananas & Ice Cream scoops were the first Denise and Marshall Eason made in late summer 2016 with their “lucky dozen” ice-cream churners Marshall found in an end-of-season sale.

When Denise Sandoval met Marshall Eason in the hallways of McAllen High School, she didn’t realize it was fate. 

Denise Eason and her late husband Marshall shared a love of food, customer service and business. Together, they created – and Marshall named – Ice Cream & Bananas.
Denise Eason and her late husband Marshall shared a love of food, customer service and business. Together, they created – and Marshall named – Ice Cream & Bananas.

Denise moved to McAllen from Monterrey at age 9, already fluent in English and Spanish. Her mom’s first language was English, having been raised in Chicago until she was 13 and her parents decided to return to Mexico. Her father had left his native country to serve in WWII, deciding later to remain in the United States and bringing his young bride from Monterrey to live in Chicago.

Denise’s father, born and raised in Mexico, chose to move the family to McAllen so Denise and her brother would have greater opportunities.

Marshall, meanwhile, is from Iowa, moving around most of his life as his father, a food scientist, took jobs with the likes of Jimmy Dean and Del Monte. Marshall’s mother, a teacher, adapted to each move. When Marshall was 16, they moved to McAllen. 

For Denise, college was a given, and she enrolled at then-University of Texas-Pan American, majoring in public relations and advertising.

“Looking back, I wish I had gone to culinary school,” Denise said, “but no one talked to us about that in high school.” 

One job Denise took while in college was at Seagate Technologies in McAllen.

“My first day, I walked up and knocked on the door. Marshall answered,” Denise said. “I remember thinking, ‘He’s the cutest man I’ve ever seen. I’m going to marry him.’ But we actually just became good friends.”

Plain Jane is one of the most popular Ice Cream & Bananas flavors.
Plain Jane is one of the most popular Ice Cream & Bananas flavors.

Keeping In Touch

Marshall later moved to Colorado and California, earning a bachelor’s degree in international business and a master’s in business along the way. They stayed in touch. Marshall eventually returned to McAllen. As fate would have it, he and Denise became a couple.

They shared an interest in creating a food business. In 2009, as they tested cupcake recipes, Marshall returned to school for a bachelor’s in computer engineering. Denise became a kindergarten teacher at Agape Christian School, where Marshall’s mother served as director.

In 2012, a sudden illness resulted in doctors diagnosing Marshall with an enlarged heart. Their first-born son, Marshall, was a year old at the time. Denise walked out to the hospital lobby and sat down, sobbing.

“A hand touched my shoulder,” Denise said. “I said, ‘God, I put this in your hands.’ I felt immediate relief.”

Marshall went to Dallas for treatment, but there was nothing permanent doctors could do. A year later, daughter Matilda was born. Marshall and Denise revisited the idea of starting a business. After tasting Black Cat Ice Cream at a Farmers Market in Iowa in 2016, Marshall had an epiphany.

“We should make ice cream,” he told Denise. “There’s nothing like this in McAllen.” 

Denise began researching, leading her to the book Ample Hills Creamery.

 “I read their story,” she said. “I told Marshall, ‘They did it, we can, too!’ ” 

Denise and Marshall Eason’s daughter Matilda poses with her dad before his untimely passing in 2019.
Denise and Marshall Eason’s daughter Matilda poses with her dad before his untimely passing in 2019.

Marshall found “the lucky dozen” churners at an end-of-season sale. Denise insisted they have a recipe with chocolate-covered bananas because she loved both, causing Marshall’s second epiphany.

“We’re going to call it what we make, Ice Cream & Bananas,” Marshall told her.

They developed recipes and began selling at the McAllen Farmers Market that year. Business grew and a third child, Miles, joined the family. In June 2019, Marshall told Denise he wanted to move to Iowa. Denise felt heartbroken, but she knew how important it was to him. They closed up shop and left the city where their love story and their business began.

Making Life Good Again

As Denise prepared to interview for a job in Iowa, Marshall returned to McAllen to sell their home. The evening of Sept. 25, 2019, Denise missed Marshall’s call. He sent her a text: “Love you. Sweet dreams.” 

She tried to reach him several times, but Marshall had passed away in his sleep from cardiac arrhythmia. He was 41. Denise returned to McAllen.

“My business, my parents, my people were there,” she said. “And it was my connection to my husband.”

There is a story behind each Ice Cream & Bananas flavor. Café De Olla and Guanábana Sorbet pay tribute to owner Denise Eason’s Mexican heritage.
There is a story behind each Ice Cream & Bananas flavor. Café De Olla and Guanábana Sorbet pay tribute to owner Denise Eason’s Mexican heritage.

On Nov. 7, 2020, Denise returned to the McAllen Farmers Market. She sells her original-recipe, homemade ice cream there every Saturday, from her best seller Honeycomb to her Café De Olla, one of several that pays homage to her Mexican heritage.

“I can’t see myself doing anything but ice cream,” Denise said. “People tell me it’s the best ice cream they’ve tasted. It’s my passion.”

Denise can also be found at the Tres Lagos Farmers Market on the first Sunday of each month. She now makes her ice cream at CC’s Sweets commercial kitchen, thanks to her friend, owner Roberta Castillo. In March 2022, she will fulfill a dream by taking a coveted position at the renowned Penn State Creamery for the 130th Penn State Ice Cream Short Course.

“You learn to live with your grief,” Denise said. “There are still lessons in life I need to learn and my children will learn, too. We have learned we can be happy again.”

Marshall’s T-shirts of choice were from Life is Good, and this is exactly how Denise Eason chooses to see the future.

Comments