Teen-agers scoop up cool business
Two Tonganoxie teens are getting a taste of what the business world's all about.
And that taste of business includes one of America's favorite treats ice cream.
On July 1, Melissa Ward, 16, and her brother, Dusty Ward, 14, opened the Ice Cream Parlor just south of the former home of the Ice Cream Parlor, a longtime Tonganoxie restaurant which closed early this year. Their father, local Realtor Greg Ward, who purchased the property and converted the former restaurant into office space, saw a continued need for an ice cream shop.
"When we were remodeling the building, we'd have three or four people stop by every day wanting to eat at the restaurant and we'd have to tell them it had gone out of business," Ward said.
Before long, he started eyeing the former barbershop in the parking lot near Second Street and U.S. Highway 24-40.
"I just thought, well, we've got the building, let's sell them some ice cream there," Ward said. He decided that the perfect people to run the building were his children.
"I knew it would be a tremendous opportunity for them to learn about business and making a profit," Ward said.
It took a little remodeling to get the building in shape. The roof, damaged by the May 11 tornado, had to be replaced.
Then Ward and David Bray replaced the ceiling tiles, and Bray added a triple sink as required by state regulations, and updated electricity.
The red, white and blue tile floor and red walls were already in pretty good shape.
The youngsters added a couple of freezers and work tables, received their state license, ordered ice cream and frozen treats from a supplier and went to work.
Now, the new shop is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Part of what the teens have learned is when they need to be open. For instance, at first they opened at noon.
"Nobody was coming in from noon to one," Melissa Ward said. "So I thought I'm not going to be here if people aren't coming in."
And they've also learned their customers' preferences.
They started out with Blue Bunny ice cream products, because that's the brand the old Ice Cream Parlor sold.
"We wanted to duplicate that because that's what people were asking for," Greg Ward said.
And then they had to determine what to order.
Turns out, pecan ice cream takes tops.
"Every week we have to order more pecan," Melissa Ward said. "I don't know why I think it's gross."
But her father had a different opinion.
"It's one of my favorites," Greg Ward said.
So, every Friday at 10 a.m., the weekly supply of ice cream, including extra pecan of course, arrives.
Nowadays, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Melissa Ward runs the shop. When she then takes off to work the evening shift at Sonic, Dusty Ward takes over at the Ice Cream Parlor.
Right now, Greg Ward says the sky's the limit as far as how long the shop will remain open.
"We can keep it open all year long if people keep buying ice cream," he said.
When Melissa Ward heard that, she said, "I don't know about that, my schedule will get hectic with school and Sonic."
Her father replied: "Then hire employees."
But what if the employees don't work out?
"I'd fire 'em," Melissa said. "I'd say, 'If you're not going to work, then I don't need you.'"
Melissa noted that a lot of teens today don't know how to work that they don't have good work ethics.
As she spoke, her father listened, then commented on her response:
"I think that's a result of these kids taking on this responsibility. These are lessons they will have for the rest of their lives."
And, as far as a possible expansion of the ice cream shop, Greg Ward said he's open to the possibility of eventually adding on and turning it into a real restaurant again.
"If people want old-fashioned hamburgers, we could add on to the north side," he said. "There seems to be a definite market for this."
Meanwhile, the teens continue to learn more and more about running a business and making a profit.
"After we balanced our checkbooks last week, and all our bills were paid, we had $150 left in the account and we split that," Melissa Ward said.
Dusty already knows what he's saving up for a cell phone.
"That's fine with me," Greg Ward said. "He earns the money and he can do with it what he wants. After all, that's what the American dream is all about."
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