A business that began as a simple pushcart on Bradley’s campus has grown into a Peoria favorite.
by Amy Groh – July 2008
Standing in line for two scoops of Mocha Me Crazy nestled in a waffle cone on a warm, summer evening, you’d never guess that the owner of The Spotted Cow began his ice cream business with a simple pushcart on the campus of Bradley University. Frank Abdnour’s lifetime devotion to ice cream began in 1984 near Bradley’s quad. After some time, his business had grown so much that he became competition for the school’s cafeteria service, and eventually the administration asked him to take his business elsewhere. But Abdnour wasn’t dismayed.
He worked for awhile at an A&W root beer stand near the corner of War Memorial and University, and later spent time selling ice cream out of the building that would become Avanti’s at the corner of Main and University. When the building was purchased by Avanti’s founder Albert Zeller, Abdnour found himself looking for yet another location. He moved The Spotted Cow to Peoria Heights in 1987, and remained in that location for 19 years. He moved to his current location at 718 W. Glen in 2006.
Creating a Tradition
Establishing The Spotted Cow as a Peoria tradition didn’t happen overnight. “The basis of my success was that the community took to us really well. Peoria was really receptive to a homegrown ice cream business.” Abdnour knew he couldn’t just buy someone else’s product and resell it-that wouldn’t fulfill his dream of making the funky flavors for which he has come to be known. “You don’t do this for money-you do it for love… and passion for what you do,” he explained.
To learn to make ice cream from scratch, Abdnour attended a six-week course at Penn State. “That was the best class,” he recalls. “I learned a lot.” He couldn’t do it alone, though, and The Spotted Cow quickly became a family business, with his wife, Donna, running the books and his brother, Lou, and sister-in-law, Chris, behind the counter. Chris has a knack for creating and decorating The Spotted Cow’s famous ice cream cakes and concentrates most of her time on that aspect of the business.
When he began his adventures in ice cream, the frozen treat was the only product Abdnour sold. But as the community embraced the uniqueness offered by The Spotted Cow, his business took off.
Today, half of his business comes from burgers and fries-a testament to his philosophy that customers prefer “homegrown” establishments over chain restaurants. This philosophy is something he banks on every day.
Forging Funky Flavors
The raw mix used to make the vanilla base for all flavor concoctions is what gives ice cream from different shops their unique tastes. Abdnour himself concocted the recipe for his raw mix, and even sells it to customers who want to make ice cream at home. Although he came up with the recipe, the actual mix is made elsewhere by a company with the expensive equipment required for pasteurization.
After receiving the raw mix on-site, it takes Abdnour just 12 to 15 minutes to make a nine-gallon batch of ice cream. While he once relied on the trial-and-error method of flavor creation, Abdnour says that after making ice cream for so many years, he now has a pretty good sense of which ingredients work well together and which do not. For example, he says, “Coffee and raspberry go well together, but also lets his staff-some of whom won’t leave because they love working for him so much-experiment with their own ideas. Abdnour said he was the first in the Midwest to sell cookie dough ice cream, making his first batch in 1987 after one of the girls who worked for him requested it. He even takes requests from customers and fills custom orders for unique concoctions.
About 15 years ago, Abdnour whipped up a batch of Dorito ice cream, as requested by Jay Leno when he stopped by The Spotted Cow while in town. In hopes of getting on the The Late Show with David Letterman, Abdnour once made sweet corn ice cream, which he admits did not get him the TV appearance he was hoping for. Once can find distinctive flavors, such as Heifermint and Moo Newer, behind the glass at The Spotted Cow, alongside other flavors like Whopper Freakout, Cotton Candy and Peanut Udder.
Last year, Abdnour received a call from the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, asking if he could make 840 ice cream baseballs for a benefit to be hosted by White Sox slugger and Peoria area native Jim Thome, in honor of his late mother, Joyce. As a passionate White Sox fan, he jumped at the opportunity, fulfilling the order for vanilla baseballs featuring Thome’s jersey number, 25 with 20 red stitches on coconut “grass” and Oreo “dirt.”
“I try to constantly be creative, and customers appreciate what we do by supporting us and coming in,” Abdnour said. “Communities have to support independent businesses; it’s where you get variety.” And he offers exactly that. With a supply of constantly changing flavors, customers can indulge in a different one every time they visit The Spotted Cow.
Kid’s Favorite: BLUE WAVE ICE CREAM
Most popular flavor: PLAIN VANILLA
Most popular summer flavor: PEACH RASPBERRY
Worst flavor he ever made: BLACK LICORICE
Weirdest flavor: JALAPENO SORBET
Frank’s favorite flavor: MINT OREO or SPUMONI TURTLE
Frank Abdnour grew up in Peoria, and after brief stints in Texas and Colorado, gravitated back to the River City. His wife, Donna, and children Sydney and Noah, are instrumental in the family business and Frank’s passion, The Spotted Cow. He is an avid White Sox fan and can nearly always be seen sporting the team’s cap. Abdnour is a big proponent of anything locally-owned, living by his philosophy, “Always go local!”
1. My life won’t be complete until I… own a professional baseball team.
2. Who’s had the greatest impact on your life: My mother, Fredia.
3. My idea of perfect happiness: A night game at U.S. Cellular Field watching the Sox with my wife and kids.
4. What do you consider your greatest achievement? My kids.
5. What would you say to your 20-year-old self? Do not be self-employed!
6. What was your first car? 1967 Chrysler New Yorker.
7. What’s one thing you should throw away but haven’t? My old high school sweatshirt.
8. What’s one thing you’d rather pay somebody to do than do yourself? Two things-painting and moving.
9. If you were able to retrieve only one item on the way out of your burning house, what would it be? Outside of my wife and kids, my personalized Jim Thome autographed baseball.
10. What is something that always brings a smile to your face? Ice Cream!