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Floating lemonade stand on Seattle’s Lake Union raises money for charity, teaches work ethic for young sisters

Aug. 4, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:37 p.m.

By Amanda Zhou Seattle Times

From floating hot tubs to underwater billboards, there’s little Lake Union hasn’t seen. Now you can add a floating lemonade stand to the mix.

And yes: They take Venmo and Apple Pay.

The newest waterborne business is none other than Quinn and Kate’s lemonade stand, a 6-by-12-foot float operated by the titular 8- and 11-year-old sisters (with some help from dad).

Adorned with artificial grass, a children’s picnic table and a mini black-and-white farmhouse, the business sells the sweetest lemonade and ice cream an unsuspecting kayaker could hope to buy.

The business started when the girls’ father, Ned Carner, moved into a houseboat last year not far from another Lake Union floating attraction: The Sleepless in Seattle houseboat. When the sisters complained about not being able to have a lemonade stand for the summer, Carner got the idea.

“I thought he was joking at first,” Quinn Carner said.

With a zero-interest loan from dad, the girls started to build the float last winter. Decorations were ordered, and Kate Carner requested a modern farmhouse look inspired by the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” She allowed her younger sister’s name to precede hers for the name of their business.

The girls conducted a market survey in the neighborhood to determine the optimal price and recipe. Then, the business ventured ー freshly painted and a bit wobbly ー onto the lake for a disastrous first day in May.

Dad forgot the simple syrup mixture, Kate said, and they sold just nine lemonades at $1 in three hours. With the business barely in the black, they turned to a tried and true strategy adjustment. “We’ve got to raise the price and shop at Costco,” Quinn said.

These days, the float sells lemonade at $3 and a rotating selection of frozen desserts like ice cream sandwiches and fudge pops. No one should be price gouged for an Otter pop, said Stephanie Jefferson, Carner’s partner who also supervises the lake operation.

Before leaving the dock on a recent Saturday in July, the girls and their three visiting cousins loaded up the float with supplies. Dry ice for the ice cream, a citrus press, plastic cups, ice and a glass jar of lemons. Everyone put on a life jacket even though they obscured the girls’ matching lemon-patterned shirts.

While the kids usually post on Instagram the day before they head out, the business primarily attracts customers the old-fashioned way.

“Come get your lemonade and ice cream!” Kate shouted.

Throughout the day, a few kayakers and paddleboarders hitched themselves to the stand to stop for a cup of lemonade. Some family friends complimented the refreshing drink and two boaters stopped for Italian Ice. A Cycle Saloon party boat netted several sales.

Most pay in cash, though the girls allow an honor system for those who left their wallets and smartphones ashore.

The key, Ned Carner said, is to attract one customer. Then many more start to line up. Boats with kids and day-drinking adults are also sure to stop, he said.

The best day of sales yet? The day of the Kraken Expansion Draft at Gas Works Park when the girls made $581 in two hours. One yacht paid the girls a $50 bill for two lemonades. They ran out of supplies that day.

The stand is powered by a Bluetooth-enabled motor connected to a remote, which Carner operates from a distance on a kayak or a boat. It’s a process that takes some finagling and stress on his part. If he can’t see which way the motor is facing, he might move the stand in the wrong direction. If he is too far away, the remote will be out of range.

Early in the venture, the float was powered by a motor hooked up to the end of a drill, Carner said. But one day, the drill ran out of juice and the float was blown across the lake. Family friends helped tow it back.

Part of the fun is the reactions the kids get, Carner said.

At the end of the day, after the girls take a dip in the water and have ice cream themselves, the money — including tips — is tallied up.

The first $25 is put away on the website Kiva, which helps connect people through lending, aimed to alleviate poverty. Carner said his daughters specifically loan to women outside the United States.

Then after the cost of goods is taken out, the remaining profit is split three ways: a donation to the Rainier Animal fund, personal spending for the girls and money the two spend on a children’s app where they can choose companies to buy shares of stocks.

Quinn’s stocks are Target, Chipotle and Mattel (for Barbie) and Kate invests in Disney, Starbucks, Google and Facebook, even though her father does not allow her to have a personal account.

The girls hope to save money either for a car or college and also want to gain 1,000 followers on Instagram.

On that windy Saturday, Carner estimated they about broke even — a lesson in fixed costs, he said.

Carner, who works in commercial real estate, said he and his partner both grew up in working-class families. The project has been a vessel to teach his daughters work ethic, generosity and financial responsibility. The last thing he wants is for his kids to be running around with too much spending money, he said.

“Let’s just take this as far as their energy is willing to take it and so far it’s gained momentum,” he said.

If you’re lucky enough to catch them on Lake Union, you may be greeted by the two girls with their motto: “Welcome to Quinn and Kate’s Lemonade where we turn life’s lemons into lemonade.”

Quinn and Kate stay with their father every other week and try to go out onto the lake at least once or twice. They are planning to be selling in early August and again on Aug. 21 for the Summer Smash Concert.

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