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Over 70 years, Snowflake has become a Riverhead institution for locals and tourists alike. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Mike many households on Long Island in the 1950s, Stu Feldschuh’s basement had a built-in bar. Not big drinkers, his family had little use for it. Feldschuh, however, spent countless hours playing make believe in that basement as a child, running his own imaginary sundae bar. 

Thirty-five years later, his childhood fantasies became reality when he took ownership of the beloved Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe in Riverhead. 

Now in its 70th year, Feldschuh is proud of the legacy Snowflake has created. 

Mom and pop changed, but Snowflake’s been the same 

Originally owned and operated by Herb and Joan Kunitz, the young couple opened the doors to Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe in 1953. Herb, a self-proclaimed “stubborn Dutchman,” wanted to preserve the traditional methods of creating creamy ice cream at a time when the frozen dairy industry was rapidly changing. 

In the early ’50s, the price of sugar was greatly reduced after World War II, and as a result there were cheaper, more efficient methods to produce ice cream in large quantities. Suddenly, ice cream was able to be mass-produced for shops and grocery stores. Many ice cream parlors cut their costs in half due to the dessert’s industrialization. However, Herb refused to allow his customers to eat what he considered “lesser quality” ice cream. He was insistent on making all the ice cream he sold in his shop. 

“He never cut corners on ingredients or his methods in making the ice cream,” said Feldschuh. 

In 1987, Feldschuh and his wife, Carolyn, were fully immersed in the financial world of New York City. But four days before he was to join Carolyn on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, the market crashed, prompting the couple to flee to their house on the North Fork. Finding themselves in Riverhead, Black Monday became the road to ice cream sundaes. 

Feldschuh spent his summers in grade school working with the Good Humor bicycle cart set up at the beach entrance in Long Beach. He was paid daily — in ice cream — and, at the end of the season, with a Yankees game. He worked alongside the Good Humor man for three years, but his love for ice cream remained constant even into adulthood. 

“We always loved the East End of Long Island,” said Feldschuh. “We were so fortunate that during this move, we discovered that our favorite ice cream store was up for sale and we got the opportunity to learn how to make real ice cream from an old timer.” 

Feldschuh worked directly with Herb over the next year to learn the exact method to making deliciously creamy traditional ice cream. 

“I didn’t change anything Herb did,” said Feldschuh. “We worked with the Kunitzes for about a year and a half before we fully took over in 1988. They continued to work with us and were involved in the store until they passed away.” 

And for the last 35 years, the Feldschuhs have run Snowflake, changing very little since the 1950s. Through the business, both families have become synonymous with the Riverhead community, raising generations of young people, both as customers and employees. 

“Snowflake stayed the same, but Mom and Pop changed,” said Feldschuh. 

Creating the flavors

Feldschuh continues to use the same methods of making ice cream as Kunitz. Although it has been replaced over the past 70 years, Feldschuh utilizes the same type of machine, called a batch freezer. This machine is heralded in the ice cream business as the best way to make the delicious frozen dessert as well as gelato, Italian ices, sherbet, sorbet or frozen custard.

“I buy the best quality mix I possibly can,” said Feldschuh. “My secret is that I use natural, real ingredients. I try to buy locally as well, especially when summer comes around.” 

While the process of making the ice cream remains the same, Feldschuh and his wife constantly change and experiment with flavors. They feature a “flavor of the week” as well as a seasonally rotating menu with ingredients sourced from numerous Riverhead farms.

Inspiration for flavors comes from various sources. Some are original creations from Kunitz. Many are flavors that Feldschuh wanted to try but never saw at other shops; such as his favorite, cherry pistachio. Snowflake Kisses, a frozen Oreo dipped in chocolate or cherry syrup, came to Carolyn Feldschuh in a dream. 

Many flavors are suggested by customers of all ages as well. Gold Rush, a mix of chocolate, caramel, coffee and peanut butter ice cream, was suggested by a young boy. Others are inspired by one-off jokes made by customers.

“Twenty years ago, I bought a few dozen boxes of Thin Mints from our local Girl Scout troop,” said Jaime Siegel, a longtime customer-turned-friend of the Feldschuhs. “I went to Stu and said, ‘You’ve gotta help me, I just got mugged by a Girl Scout and now I have all these cookies I don’t know what to do with.’ About a week or two later, I saw that Snowflake had introduced a new flavor — a mint and chocolate fudge ice cream with a Thin Mint cookie crunch. The name: ‘Jaime Got Mugged by a Girl Scout.’ It’s been an annual flavor ever since.” 

And this creativity hasn’t gone unnoticed. They’ve won several Blue Ribbon awards from the National Ice Cream and Yogurt Retailers Association over the years. In 2019, Snowflake won the Travel + Leisure award for the best ice cream in New York State. 

“I try to be very simple and do it the old-fashioned way,” said Feldschuh. “It takes a little longer, it’s a little more expensive, but the quality is really there.” 

Preserving a legacy 

Snowflake has cemented their spot as one of the longest-running businesses on the North Fork over the past 70 years, but becoming a Riverhead institution has not been an easy feat. They’ve faced several challenges over the years, most recently the pandemic. 

“[COVID-19] was very, very harsh on us. We still don’t allow people into our dining room,” said Feldschuh. “I’m hoping that very soon, I’m going to be able to change that and let people in again, but we’re trying to protect our health. It’s made things go a lot slower.” 

Their goal is to preserve their legacy for the next 70 years, passing on the traditional way of making ice cream to their children and spreading happiness to the next generation of customers.

“We’ve had generations and generations of kids who grew up working in our store,” said Feldschuh. “And we’ve had even more who grew up getting ice cream at our shop.”

He is fond of hearing stories from customers — now adults — who remember dropping a brand-new ice cream cone as a child and Kunitz giving them another one on the house. “It’s funny that for a lot of adults, they remember something so small from their childhood, but at the time it was such a kind gesture to them,” said Feldschuh. 

Many customers, such as Siegel, have been coming to Snowflake since the Feldschuhs took over ownership in 1988. Numerous employees have worked with Snowflake for decades as well. Manager Sherri Hysell has worked for Snowflake since 2005. Nigel Ranghell, another manager, has been coming to Snowflake since he was in middle school and is one of many among his friends and family to work for the ice cream shop. 

“I’ve worked in food service for 15 years, but I never thought working with ice cream would be my favorite,” said Ranghell. “I’ve had so many friends and family work here and found myself wanting to be a part of the unique family at Snowflake. It still amazes me how many people leave here happy. It makes me feel accomplished — like I’m a part of something.” 

Feldschuh is looking forward to the future. The majority of his days at the shop are spent fine-tuning the machines and experimenting with new flavors. While he trains his son Max to one day take over the business, he doesn’t see himself retiring anytime soon. 

“It’s been 35 years, I thought I’d at least be semi-retired by now,” Feldschuh said. “I don’t seem to be able to get out of here at all. As long as it’s fun, I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I still have a really good time working here and being a part of this community.”