In case you needed a reason to get an ice cream on this hot summer day, July 15th is National Ice Cream Day – giving us the perfect excuse to visit Endicott alumnus, Mike Schifino ’09. Schifino, also known as the “accidental ice cream entrepreneur,” owns the Holy Cow Ice Cream Café, located in Gloucester, Massachusetts – in close proximity to his old stomping grounds, Endicott College.
Schifino’s attention to detail and his passion to continue improving his business is evident from the moment you step foot in the Café.
How did you feel graduating from Endicott with three internships?
I think the internship program at Endicott is something all schools should implement. There is no better way to learn than being fully immersed in a certain industry or business. The skills I learned from my internships prepared me for the challenges I faced months after graduation. I stepped up to manage my father’s estate after his death in 2010 and soon realized I worked better as my own boss which led me to where I am today.
Had you always been interested in being an entrepreneur?
My dad and I always enjoyed thinking up the next big thing, so I’ve always had aspirations of creating something. Whether we were planning to open a high-end deli sandwich restaurant called “Mickey Babe’s” (his nickname for me) or my now embarrassing idea of a spoof of the board game Guess Who, called Guess Brew, I’ve always had some kind of new venture on my brain.
When did you first seriously consider opening your own local business?
While I was developing this abandoned mixed use building in Gloucester I had purchased, I heard from locals it used to be an ice cream shop called Holy Cow in the 90’s. I had no intention of opening a business in this building, but when I heard whispers that “Holy Cow was coming back” I knew it was a perfect opportunity to rebrand Holy Cow.
What was the process like opening Holy Cow Ice Cream Cafe? Did you have help?
It was pretty hectic. After confirming I could use the name legally, I began deciding on what the logo would be, color schemes, tile choice, layout, what equipment I needed, and taught myself how to run an ice cream shop. I had no partners, so the only help I had was bouncing ideas off my supportive family, girlfriend, and friends. The whole process started in early summer 2014 and took about four months. It was an extremely successful opening and it taught me countless lessons.
What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of being a small business owner?
Having the freedom to be creative with the menu. I always put myself in the customer’s shoes and think “what would catch my eye if I were a consumer at Holy Cow?” Everything we do at the shop is based around wowing the customer to the point of getting a 5-star review on social media platforms. Whenever we get a 5-star review, I make a point to screenshot it and send it to whoever was working at the time. It’s rewarding to succeed as a team and be able to share positive feedback with our employees who take pride in rocking the Cow logo.
What advice would you give Endicott alumni thinking about starting their own business?
First, make sure you are passionate about the product or service. When you’re interested in what you do, you naturally continue to learn and develop your brand. My wife can attest, as she caught me watching a “how to make ice cream” seminar on YouTube last night, something I would likely not be doing if I didn’t have a genuine interest.
What is your favorite thing on the menu?
My favorite thing on the menu is the Mocha Bomb Ice Cream Sandwich. All our cookie dough is made by yours truly, so after developing cookie recipes for the last few summers, I was trying to replicate a brownie type of cookie. The Mocha Bomb is our Double Chocolate Cookie with Coffee Ice cream, and crushed Oreos on the rim to finish it off. That being said, I am a fan of all of the ice cream sandwiches we sell. I would say that my opinion is biased, but the people have spoken and they agree.
Interview originally appeared in The Endicott Connection fall/winter 2017 issue.