THE DAILY ORANGE

Sweet Legacy

Family-owned ice cream stand remains local icon for 60 years

Only adults and tall children on tip toes can reach the doorbell by the back door of the Sno Top Ice Cream shop.

Around the front where the doorbell used to be, a large ice cream cone with blue lettering hangs off the small wooden stand that has stood for 60 years.

Windows plastered in neon posters advertise new flavors, the signs fighting for space next to newspaper clippings and photos of smiling faces from throughout Sno Top’s history.

Children pass by the stand where they used to ring the doorbell, begging for a free cone. The doorbell rang so often, the owner had to relocate it — out of reach from sticky-fingered visitors.

Entering the stand is like entering into Narnia: Cups, cones, sprinkles, candy, vats of cream, cans of sauce pack the place.

Beaming employees man all four up-front windows. They stand eager to take an order, clutching notebooks in front of their blue caps and aprons.

Rows of soft serve and flurry machines tower temptingly behind them, bordered by a soda fountain, containers of sauce, jars of sprinkles and candy.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

The store is organized chaos. Everything in the building proudly bears a small, neatly printed label. Down to the cracked, painted lanes on the pavement directing customers to the windows, everything is in place, ready to go.

The customers arrive.

Small chocolate shake guy.

Bubblegum dip girl.

The Giordanos know their orders by heart. They’ve been doing it for 44 years.

***

Cruising down Fayette Street in Manlius, 15 minutes from the Syracuse University campus, drivers pass several stoplights. They sit in their cars, drumming at the steering wheel, waiting for that flash of green.

If they glance over to their right, they will see Sno Top. The small ice cream stand, which makes its own ice cream, has been there longer than the light they sit at — it opened in 1957. Now in its 60th anniversary year, Vincent “Mr. Sno Top” Giordano has no plans to slow down — much to the delight of his hundreds of customers. They are planning events and celebrations for the landmark and may host a T-shirt design contest for an anniversary shirt.

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Vincent Giordano began working at Sno Top when he was in high school. He has now owned the business for 44 years, and has no plans to slow down soon. Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Vincent Giordano began working at the stand when he was in high school. He bought the business in 1974. Since then, it’s grown from five employees to 20 under him and his wife, Kathy.

“I run into people that know me, people that don’t know me and I’m known as Mr. Sno Top,” Vincent said. “One of the comments they always make is ‘your help is so nice.’ That’s one of the requirements.”

Hurrying across the front of the shop, Kathy balances two vanilla cones. The soft serve is twisted the wrong way — no one taught her the right way until the incorrect form was already ingrained in her mind. She turns her back stirring a pot before plunging the ice creams in. She turns back to reveal a cone drenched in peanut butter sauce and one cased in chocolate sauce.

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Kathy works day shifts during the week and has done so since she and Vincent acquired the business. It comes naturally to her now, but it didn’t always. She’d never made a cone in her life until the day she was left to run the stand alone while Vince traveled for his former job with Carrier Corporation.

Most days, she enjoys the job, chatting with the customers and seeing faces of children light up as their orders pass through the window. Other days are more stressful, training new workers and taking inventory.

“I have no regrets,” Kathy chuckled.

The workers at the stand are a family, sometimes literally — generations pass through the stand. The store has seen two weddings. The children of former employees come to work. Vincent and Kathy’s granddaughter has put in more than 20 hours this week. Employees are best friends, joking around behind the scenes but never in front of the customers.

Vincent and Kathy dedicate a lot of time to supporting their employees and the community. All of the workers are high school or college students, crafting cones between classes.

The stand is the primary sponsor for the local baseball league and sponsors two local scholarships. The achievements and certificates of league employees are proudly displayed in the window of the store.

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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Most of the greatest memories from the stand involve some form of spillage. Just last week, Vincent’s granddaughter, Morgan, dropped a vat of Nerds in the storefront. When she crossed into the back room to restore them, she dropped them again, prompting ridicule from the other workers. After a second, swift cleanup, she was back on the job.

Caroline Gaglione experienced something similar just one week into the job. She busted a hole in the bottom of a Monster Milkshake. Thirty-two ounces of thick, creamy milkshake splattered everywhere.

“I still have the stains on my shoes,” Gaglione said.

It’s this type of action Gaglione prefers. Closing time is more drab and dull. She would rather be building a “Trash Can Sundae.”

“You wanna know what a trash can is?” Vincent gestured at a wide-eyed child clutching the extravagant dessert — ice cream piled into a mini plastic trashcan, topped with whipped cream, peanut butter, chocolate syrup, “dirt,” gummy worm and candy eyes.

“That’s a trash can,” Vincent said.

Sno Top’s near-500 daily customers have about 170 options to choose from, Vincent said, but he’s also open to conjuring up any combination a customer asks for. Vanilla soft serve is the biggest seller for the stand because it’s so easy to manipulate.

For inspiration, the Giordanos make the trip to the National Ice Cream Retailers Association convention each year. Vincent is a former president of the organization. At the convention, they meet up with about 75 vendors to examine new products and host classes on running a business, health and safety and the hiring process.

Vincent currently doesn’t have plans to retire, but the option may be on the horizon. His son doesn’t want to take over the stand and neither does his daughter.

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Rather, it’s Morgan Giordano’s dream to take over the business. Her grandparents have moonlighted as her bosses for two years now, something she sees as an opportunity to spend more time with them.

“I think they treat me just the way they treat any other worker,” Morgan said. “That’s only fair.”

Morgan takes her job very seriously — darting between tasks, taking care to sift out small pieces of candy in the crunch tubs, making sure every customer gets their money’s worth.

“The business has been in their hands for so long now, and I’ve been coming here ever since I was little,” Morgan said. “Knowing they’ve had it for so long, it would be nice to carry on the family legacy.”

***

The dinnertime lull is coming to an end, and the line starting to build. They come in waves — the softball team, the families and the couples. The diversity of the crowd’s age is second only to the varieties of ice cream on offer.
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Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Chocolate-vanilla swirl with sprinkles is carted around by one mother who balances her son’s cone coated in Butterfinger topping. She winces as a trickle of ice cream runs down her hand, collecting in the wad of napkins below. A young girl carries a bright blue, empty “Trash Can,” stained from the sweet cream she just devoured.

One couple brought along their 9-week-old puppy and allowed him to dig into his own dish of soft serve vanilla. He chases the dish around the small seating area while children watched on, giggling with glee, wearing more ice cream than they have eaten.

Nearby, a small trio grasped cones: a grandfather, his daughter and her son. The Hughes family had visited Sno Top four times in the last week.

 

“This has been an institution since I was a kid,” Jennifer Hughes said. “And now I’m bringing my son here.”

Hughes grew up in Manlius and remembers coming to the stand after school. She laughed, recalling how some kids fell into drugs and alcohol while she and her friends sloped off to Sno Top — their drug of choice.

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Jennifer Hughes and her father Jim have been coming to Sno Top since she was a young child. Jennifer now brings her 5-year-old son to the stand. His favorite ice cream is chocolate vanilla swirl in a cone — he gets to eat the dish. Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Hughes watched as her 5-year-old son charged along the small wall that runs along the stand. It’s one of his favorite parts of coming to the stand — that and one other thing.

“Chocolate with sprinkles!” Alexander whooped, jumping up and down. “In a cone, because then you get to eat more!”

The line started to dwindle again as only a few customers stood waiting for their orders. Strawberry shortcake, Reece’s flurry, cherry orchard flurry, a plain vanilla cone for the dog.

Four workers buzz around the preparation area, cleaning cups, taking a break and getting ready for the next wave. Customers will show up soon for their evening sugar fix.

As the sun began to set behind the gray stand, a small huddle of people gathered around the back of the stand. They reached up and pressed the doorbell.

Vincent and Kathy Giordano came to the door and struck up a conversation. They were old friends.

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Graphics by Emma Comtois | Digital Design Editor

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