Tanner Zelenko has the scoop on business.
The young entrepreneur from Dorchester opened his first ice cream shop at 16 and recently expanded into Oxford County. Now, the 21-year-old is serving up advice to teenagers looking to break into business solo. His first piece of advice? “Be prepared to work hard.”
“For the first few years, you’re going to have to be able to understand that if you want this to be successful, you’re going to have to make trade-offs,” said Zelenko, who started the Frozen Cow in 2017. .
It was Zelenko’s work ethic — shoveling in the winter and working for a packaged ice cream company in the summer — that helped him save enough money to open his first shop at 32 Mill Rd. in Dorchester.
“Originally, I started off really small,” he said. “It was two freezers.”
Zelenko worked 70 hours each week during the first year of running his business when he and his family were the only ones behind the counter. Today, the Frozen Cow employs nearly 20 workers.
“It has grown substantially every year,” he said of his business, declining to disclose how much the company has grown in sales.
As for flavors, customers can choose from 28 different flavors at the Dorchester shop and 32 at the location in Thamesford, at 137 Dundas St. From mango to cotton candy and chocolate, “there is a flavor for everyone,” Zelenko said, adding that the shops also serve gelato.
The ice cream is supplied by one of Ontario’s most popular ice cream producers, Kawartha Dairy — and for good reason.
“My grandfather was involved in the ice cream industry and so was my father,” Zelenko said, recalling their family trips up north. “We’d always get (Kawartha Dairy) ice cream.”
What started as a Kawartha-inspired ice cream shop quickly grew into a small-town hub, a place for people in Dorchester and now Thamesford to gather after a baseball or soccer game, Zelenko said.
For him, the most rewarding part about running his own business is inspiring youngsters in the area.
“I mostly get it in Dorchester, but kids from all of our local schools come over and get ice cream and they talk about how cool it is that I’ve done this.”
Some in high school have even done projects on the young entrepreneur. “I’ve probably had four or five high school projects done on me, which is kind of odd,” he said, smiling.
The other two messages Zelenko has for young entrepreneurs: “Believe in yourself” and “reach out to people and seek advice.”
While he went out of his way to take only business courses in high school, Zelenko decided to shake things up in university. A student at Western University’s Huron University College, he enrolled in political science and global development.
“I felt like the firsthand experience that you’ve learned in business, by actually operating your business, is going to give you so much more experience and so much more knowledge than you could learn in school,” he said.
As for his plans for the Frozen Cow, Zelenko said he wants to buy an event trailer to serve ice cream across Southwestern Ontario and eventually add more locations.
“I’ve had people reach out about franchise opportunities and I haven’t really thought that far yet, but I definitely could see potential franchises one day down the road,” he said.
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press