A Scoop of Success

Graduate turns a summer job into a thriving small business

by Elise Gibson

In March of her first year at Smith, Nina Caufield ’11 had a brainstorm: For a summer job, she would rent a former ice-cream parlor near her family’s summer home, rename it Nina CaufieldNina’s Ice Cream Parlor, and spend the summer making sundaes.

That simple-sounding plan became a race to open in time for the season in Orient, her Long Island beach town. She had three weeks to get her business and labor licenses, arrange two health inspections, have the water and soil tested, not to mention furnish and decorate the parlor, rent the refrigerators and freezers, and buy the ice cream, cones, cups, and the rest. “It’s amazing how difficult it is to open a business,” she said. “All summer I worked 80 to 90 hours a week, working from breakfast to midnight seven days a week.”

Her hard work paid off. Even after borrowing some start-up money from her parents, she broke even by July 4, and by the end of the summer 2010 had netted nearly $15,000.

That first year, she had no business plan, just a great location next to the village post office and good ice cream. By the second year, she started thinking more strategically. Now that she’s graduated, Caufield has hired an intern and expanded her business by turning the building next door into a weekend art gallery with nautical maps and prints of Long Island’s North Fork.

Nina’s Ice Cream Parlor is in its fourth season and has become established in the community, where regulars line up for her original sundaes, old-fashioned egg creams, and twenty-five flavors of ice cream. “When you put that much effort in, it’s nice to see it do well,” she said. “I never saw myself doing it until I did it. It was a leap of faith.”

Elise Gibson is managing editor of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly