If you’ve driven through Upstate New York or Vermont, there’s a decent chance you’ve stopped at a convenience store with a brick-red-and-white cursive logo whose distinctly ’50s vibe brings a little ice cream parlor nostalgia.
Inside, there’s the standard convenience-store fare, chips and sodas, but there’s also usually an ice cream counter. This would be one of 330 Stewart’s Shops, which are scattered throughout Upstate New York and Vermont. And yes, the ice cream – sold in scoops as well as pints and half-gallon paper boxes, with names like Mousse Trail and Tilt-a-Swirl – is as good as they say.
It’s far more than a convenience store with a reputation for selling its own homemade ice cream, as New Yorkers know it. It’s a $1.5 billion business with 4,500 fiercely loyal employees – and a case study in agility for not just surviving three generations of family leadership, but also deftly moving into new lines of business as consumer tastes change.
Sweet Growth Strategy
Back in 1917, Charles V. Dake and Percy W. Dake bought out their family farm on Daketown Road, due south of Daketown State Forest, from their father. They had the aim of more widely distributing their dairy products, according to the Stewart’s Shops company.
They churned butter in hopes of getting it onto local store shelves. But by 1921 it became clear to them churning ice cream would be more lucrative–and that first year they sold 4,000 gallons of “Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream.” They bought a Model T and hand-delivered barrels to nearby cities, including Saratoga, Troy, and Schenectady.