Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sweet Dream: Hand-dipped ice cream and a secret recipe for strawberry shortcake help couple achieve their goal at Big D’s

For Danielle and James Snyder, the food industry is as intertwined in their lives as the crosshatches on a waffle ice cream cone.

James’ family owns and operates Snyder’s Concessions, a Centre County fair and festival food concession vendor. Since her teenage years, Danielle has worked part-time as a waitress at various local restaurants. Always drawn to food services, Danielle and James set a goal when they married – to open their own food establishment together.

Although Danielle now works full-time in Penn State’s College of Engineering and James owns his own portion of Snyder’s Concessions, when the opportunity to partner presented itself to the couple, they took it: The chance to achieve their goal by starting a shared food service adventure.

As Centre County natives, Danielle, originally from Howard, and James, who grew up in Julian, found a location in Milesburg – a spot centrally positioned between their families within a supportive, family-oriented, and close community. Described by Danielle as the perfect location that once served as a one-stop-shop for the best barbecued ribs and smoked meats, the Snyders initially planned to open a small roadside restaurant.

“We realized that there was something missing from the area,” she says. “And that just so happened to be sweet treats.”

At that moment, Big D’s Cones and Shakes was born and the yearlong planning process began. Danielle said she and James immediately began configuring a menu, spending countless hours planning and tasting to find the perfect treat choices with appealing flavors.

“We taste-tested countless amounts of ice cream, visited local vendors, and mixed our own recipes at home,” Danielle says.

Though everything seemed to be moving along sweetly, the Snyders experienced a bit of a rocky road because just as they were preparing to open in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Danielle says that though the pandemic caused a setback in their timeframe, she and James were still able to open safely. They instituted measures to keep the health of their customers and employees at the top of their priority list, and placed a focus on partnering with local suppliers and vendors to support local families and communities.

Though big ice cream brands taste delicious and offer a large variety of flavors, Danielle says it was important to her and James to partner with local ice cream vendors to give back to the community. The couple’s hand-dip supplier is a small family operation, and their soft-serve suppliers use local farm milk to create their products.

“In my own opinion, America runs on farmers,” Danielle says. “Without farmers, we do not have a food source. What’s better than our very own local food source? Serving locally made dairy products gives Jim and me a sense of community. We are giving back to those that give so much to us.”

Thanks to these local partnerships, Big D’s Cones and Shakes typically offers about 16 different hand-dipped flavors at any given time. Danielle says these flavors are based on direct customer requests and information gathered from customers through polls. Many of these requests help to provide unique tastes not found elsewhere in Centre County. 

In addition to dairy-based ice creams, the Snyders offer allergen-free and sugar-free options to customers that often struggle to find sweet treat options.

“We quickly realized in doing our research before opening that many establishments do not offer dairy-free, sugar-free, or gluten-free items,” Danielle says. “We have many friends and family members who are sensitive to certain food allergens. When making decisions about the items we were serving, we took them into consideration. Everyone should be able to have the option for a sweet treat.”

Beyond its variety of hand-dipped cones and cups, Big D’s Cones and Shakes offers sundaes; milkshakes; vanilla, chocolate, and twist soft-serve ice cream; as well as the ice cream shop’s specialty and a community favorite – Danielle’s top-secret homemade strawberry shortcake. 

“I wish I could tell you the ingredients, but that will be giving away our secrets,” Danielle says with a laugh. “In-house, we bake fresh shortcake daily. This recipe was mastered over many months of Jim and I baking together in our kitchen at home until we perfected the blend of ingredients. We chose to make these ourselves, because a fresh-baked cake seems to be so much more satisfying than a store-bought. Plus, it’s our signature, and we have made this our own!”

Ironically, Danielle says she isn’t much of an ice cream connoisseur, often leaving the screaming for ice cream to her husband. Her favorite is that homemade strawberry shortcake.

“I think the reason why is because I bake this in-house,” Danielle says. “Besides Jim and I, there is only one employee who knows the recipe, and she is sworn to secrecy! There is just something special about creating a dessert yourself and receiving customer feedback on how delicious it is. It makes the hard work personal and rewarding.”

Samantha Chavanic is a freelance writer in Bellefonte.