On South Franklin Street in Watkins Glen, The Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor is hard to miss.
The family-run ice cream shop with sunshine yellow paint and royal blue trim has been a town mainstay since 1982 and has welcomed visitors from all 50 states and several different countries.
Inside is an old-fashioned, retro ice cream parlor, with records lining the walls, a pinball machine, a slot machine, and antique spoon spoons.
Behind the shop is the Honsberger family: the original owners, Peter, 77, and Eileen, 75, and their daughter, Jackie, who is co-owner.
Over its 40 years in business, the boutique has gone through a multitude of changes, adapting to its environment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and finding new ways to serve the Watkins Glen community.
“The Big Yellow Ice Cream Merchant”
Ice cream wasn’t always in the Honsberger family’s plans. Peter Honsberger owned a pig farm in the late 70s and Eileen worked in nursing.
But Peter always wanted to have a fallback option in case the farm didn’t work and he jumped at the chance when the shop – then painted pea green – went up for sale in 1982.
Eileen hated the color of the building and wanted to change it to something that would be inviting and look stunning on their newly purchased business, so they decided to go with yellow – it turned out a bit brighter than her hadn’t expected – and the blue. The color becomes the main feature of the store.
“Once it was on and it was on,” Jackie Honsenberger said, “that’s how we’re known, like the big yellow ice cream shop in town.”
Jackie has been in the business since she was a child and made ice cream when she was five years old.
“It was very busy and fast,” she said. “I met a lot of people. It taught me a lot of interpersonal skills, a work ethic and how the world of customer service works.”
Now she’s stepped into a bigger role as co-owner, but her parents are still involved.
“My mom still makes the ice cream cakes and my dad still does all the maintenance,” Jackie said.
Changes over the years
When Peter and Eileen bought the ice cream shop, it was just an apartment building with a one-story window.
They expanded it to include indoor and outdoor dining, thinking customers would want to come in and look at the flavor they were getting before buying it, and give them the option to give away free samples. . The couple even traveled to Italy to learn how to make ice cream and set it up in their store.
They started out serving Upstate Farms Hershey’s Ice Cream and Custard, and have also been making their own ice cream since 2005.
Jackie also made changes. At the height of the pandemic, Jackie switched to wholesale her ice cream. Customers could enjoy a half-gallon tub, ice cream sandwiches and other goodies from The Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor at local grocery stores – it’s available at seven different locations in the area. Finger Lakes. The change kept the business profitable.
She also restored the windows to the front of the business when her parents first bought it and bought the Sweet Escape ice cream catering truck for special events.
The key to success
In 40 years, the Great Escape has never had a slow month. Its owners claim that the shop has always been profitable at the end of the year. The location helps — the store is a stone’s throw from Watkins Glen State Park, which draws 1 million visitors a year — but it’s more than that.
Most of the time when you stop at The Great Escape for ice cream, you will find a member of the Honsberger family there to greet you, strike up a conversation with you, and help you ice cream.
That’s how it’s always been.
“My parents have built a really great business,” Jackie said. “They were family oriented. We were always there. They were always there, even though they both have full-time jobs.”
Although Jackie moved to Minnesota from 2005 to 2007, working on a cattle farm and in a restaurant on the weekends, she wanted to come back and help her parents run the store.
“I think home is where you are and we just have a fun company,” she said. “There’s nothing better than serving ice cream.”
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