19-year-old opens Tropical Sno in Western Springs just in time for summer

WESTERN SPRINGS – Packs of kids rounded the corner of the retail building at Woodland and Hillgrove streets, the straps from their backpacks bouncing on their shoulders, only to find that they weren’t fast enough.

By 3:30 p.m. Friday, it seemed like every student in town had rushed over to 1062 Hillgrove Ave., where 19-year-old Nicholas Cozzi, home from his freshman year of college, was opening his Tropical Sno shaved ice store.

The queue that Nicholas’ father, Steve Cozzi, had just finished setting up was full with customers, and the line went out the door. Some turned around and went to the 7-Eleven down the street.

Before the rush, Dan Madigan made the store’s first purchase for his son Will, 5, who shoveled rainbow-colored chunks of flavored ice into his mouth.

“Dad, I think this is yummy,” he said.

The store’s opening was two years in the making. Nicholas had his dad taste the shaved ice at a Tropical Sno in Willow Springs and told him he wanted to open his own franchise. Really, though, the younger Cozzi began planning this day in the Berwyn bar his dad used to run.

“His grandpa always said, ‘He’s successful because he was raised in a bar,’” Steve Cozzi said.

The younger Cozzi was always around while his dad was negotiating contracts or planning events. Beer truck drivers held him in their arms as they signed off on deliveries. When he was 10, Nicholas even started selling sno cones to compete with the lemonade stand next door. 

“I didn’t realize [the entrepreneur] embedded in him so bad,” Steve said. 

A Nazareth Academy graduate, Nicholas has worked multiple jobs since he was 16, such as running a concession stand. He’s studying computer information systems and finance at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. This summer, though, he’s doing what he’s wanted to do since he can remember: run his own business. 

About six months ago, Nicholas sold a representative from Tropical Sno on his idea to open a location in downtown Western Springs. His store will offer 24 flavors of shaved ice – including his favorite mix, Tiger’s Blood (strawberry and coconut). Hours for the location are still be decided, Nicholas said, but he expects to be open from late morning through late evening during the week and weekends. The iced treats are served to-go, but there are several chairs outside the store for customers who would like a place to sit and enjoy their cold treat. 

Eventually, Nicholas hopes that his 16-year-old brother, John, who has Down syndrome, will be able to work at the store. 

“Jobs for individuals with special needs are very limited with what you can do and who you can hire,” said Nicholas, who started a prom for students with special needs at Nazareth two years ago.

Getting the store ready was a family effort. Just after the store opened, Steve adjusted the rope queue leading to the counter while decorations were crafted by Nicholas’ mom, Sheila.

“Even if he lost everything, I couldn’t pay for an education that he [will get] through this,” Steve said. “That’s how I look at it.”

As the line outside the store got longer, Steve circled around the cars parked in front, taking pictures of the crowd.

For a treat so cold, the opening certainly was a hot one.