ELMHURST – Tucked in a small storefront on York Street hides a little piece of paradise, complete with starfish, walls the color of the ocean and refreshing Hawaiian shaved ice treats.
“Tropical Sno is shaved ice,” store owner Nicholas Cozzi said. “When you taste it like melts in your mouth.”
Cozzi opened his first Tropical Sno last year in Western Springs after falling in love with the light and fluffy frozen treats as a kid, which for Cozzi wasn’t all that long ago.
The Elmhurst Tropical Sno is the 20-year-old college student’s second franchise to open in just a year.
The entrepreneur said his business savvy comes pretty naturally, but credits his childhood experience of watching his dad run his own bar and restaurant as help.
“Everyone jokes around that I was raised in the back of a bar,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi who often visits his grandmother, Margaret Cozzi, for dinner in Elmhurst, considers the town his second home. Choosing to open his second location there seemed natural.
Kali and Canessa Brown already consider themselves regulars at the Elmhurst location, which opened in May.
“I get piña colada and lime,” said 9-year-old Kali after ordering her usual just minutes after the store opened at noon.
Canessa, 10, said she likes to try new flavors, but her favorite is still piña colada.
Cozzi’s store stocks 48 flavors, but many of those are combinations themselves, like the popular Tiger’s Blood, which mixes strawberry and coconut, or Ocean Pacific, a trio of blue raspberry, lemon and vanilla.
Ice is shaved with a blade to a snow-like consistency, piled high over the top of a cup and flavored with up to two flavors or popular combos.
Cozzi explained shaved ice is soft and soaks in the flavor, unlike a snow cone made of crunchy ice bits that tend to let the flavor settle in the bottom.
“The other cool thing is that all of our flavors are made in shop,” Cozzi said.
Because Tropical Sno is a peanut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free facility, Cozzi said it appeals to a lot of families with children whom have food allergies. Also, shaved ice is less filling than other frozen treats like ice cream or frozen yogurt, so even if kids stop by before dinner, they don’t risk losing their appetite.
As one of five siblings, Cozzi also understands how pricey a trip to the ice cream parlor can be for a large family. Every item at his Tropical Sno stores are under $4.
“That’s why in Western Springs we get a lot of baseball teams that come in, because it’s affordable,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi plans to pursue a career in finance or computer information systems, which he’s studying at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. In the mean time, he hopes to continue operating and opening Tropical Sno franchises. Two of his siblings have already started working at his stores, and he thinks his family may take over if he takes another job after college.
Cozzi still has plenty of plans for his stores, though. He employs all high school and college students, including his brother John, a recent Lyons Township High School graduate who has Down’s Syndrome.
“I am in touch with a lot of kids [and] young adults who have special needs,” said Cozzi explaining he understands there aren’t many opportunities for individuals like his brother to work.
While the college student admits running two stores during his summers off of school can be challenging, it’s worth it.
“If you enjoy it, it’s really easy to go to work,” Cozzi said.