Steve Cordes, the owner of Steve’s Homemade Ice Cream, brings a piece of the Big Apple to Fernley. Originally from New York City, Steve grew up working weekends at a famous little Staten Island soda shop that dates back to 1933. There he learned how to make homemade ice cream and that he liked the ice cream business. After working for a time as a police officer, Steve went back to manage the soda shop for 12 years before deciding to go out on his own in the dry desert of Nevada.
Steve first found out about the Nevada Small Business Development Center on the web, and recalled his first meetings with an NSBDC counselor. “I called Rod Jorgensen before I moved out here, in the spring of 2006. I’d been out here not even a week and I had my first appointment.”
As to the business assistance he received, Steve replied, “Rod helped give me a lot of ideas on getting financing. I wrote a business plan and he read it and went over it with me. And when it came time to sign my lease, I came in and for an hour and a half he sat down and went through the lease agreement with me – saved me from having to hire a lawyer.” Steve also mentioned Debra Deming’s advice on the how and where of advertising spots using local media, as well as logo and signage design and uniformity. Additionally, student interns helped prepare financial statements and forecasts.
So why’d Steve move to Fernley, you might ask? Well Steve had been to Northern Nevada numerous times prior to leaving New York, and more often after his parents moved to Fernley. He admits to having really enjoyed Reno as a tourist destination, and to having grown fond of sagebrush and desert sunrises. As for opening a business, however, Steve said, “Nevada’s a much more business friendly state than New York City.” He added that Nevada has “Better weather, better climate, and better traffic, and the people are really friendly. I like it out here a lot.”
And while an appreciation for Nevada helps one’s chances, Steve has more going for him and his business than just kind words. “It’s about customer service, quality, and cleanliness,” said Steve. And it’s hard to deny the quality of his creamy creations.
“It’s fresher because it’s made right here on premises – it’s not been sitting in somebody’s freezer for two months,” said Steve, who purchases his dairy products from Model Dairy. “I control what flavors I make – and the quality comes from that personal attention that it gets.”
The authenticity is apparent as well. “I did this for twenty years on Staten Island before I moved out here. The way you see it here is the way it was done there. I still get specialty items in New York – a lot of my ice cream flavorings, for example. And the sugar cones that I get from back east are totally different from sugar cones you get on the west coast – people notice that and they tell me the difference.”
And he prides himself on his customer service. His employees scoop the ice cream into old-fashioned metal bowls and serve it to you at your table.
On top of that, Steve’s Homemade Ice Cream is the only ice cream shop in Fernley. Its population of just over 20,000 people places it “at the threshold for an ice-cream shop,” said Steve. But he’s not worried about competition as Fernley inevitably grows. “They could open up ten more, I’m not worried,” said Steve.
Patrons across Nevada agree. Steve made sure to send thanks to his loyal customers in Fallon, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Silver Springs, Yerington, Hawthorne, Tonopah, and Reno, and believes that “word of mouth is the best advertising.”
Customers’ suggestions for flavors sometimes become standards, and I was lucky enough to taste his newest addition: Black Raspberry. And his flavor selection changes with the seasons: Peach, Coconut, and a large selection of Italian Ices for spring and summer; pumpkin, brownie batter, cake batter, and even eggnog for the fall and winter. He even serves a nonfat, no-sugar-added soft serve yogurt and makes all his own homemade ice cream cakes and pies.
On having his own business Steve said, “Even though I work more hours, it’s more rewarding to me. I’m having fun. If you work seven days a week, 100 hours a week in the summer time – you have to enjoy it.”
Steve employs between four and five kids from the local high school. “I have really good employees here, really good. I almost feel like a conductor in an orchestra, making sure everybody’s doing their part, and it all comes together,” said Steve.
“At the same time,” Steve continued, “I’m a hands on owner – I work right next to my employees. I clean the bathrooms here just as much as they do. I tell my employees from the get go, “I will never ask you to do something I won’t do myself.””
As for others looking to start their own businesses, Steve suggested, “Take your time, do your research. Don’t rush. If the idea’s good today, it’ll be good tomorrow. You’ve got to do it right the first time, because if you don’t, it costs too much money to go back and redo it. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Frankly, I could see sprinting back to Fernley for more ice cream.
Steve’s Homemade Ice Cream is open every day at 11 am.
Sunday – Thursday he closes at 9:30pm.
Friday- Saturday he closes at 10pm.
Success story compiled and written by Cecil “Chuck” McCumber – Graduate Assistant – Nevada Small Business Development Center