Bobby Kozyak’s frozen custard stand draws customers from both sides of the river on any given spring or summer night with live bands performing on weekends and caramel apples available there and at local grocery stores and markets in the fall. Now in his 25th season, Kozyak recently talked to business writer Will Buss and reflected on a quarter century in business:
Looking back, has your business turned out how you initially envisioned it?
“I think to sum it up, it’s been a dream come true. It’s met all of our expectations and then some. We started out 25 years ago on a two-lane highway on a cornfield and put up a place that people said looked like a spaceship. We’re in a small community, and we have a lot of communities around us. It’s a destination location, and fortunately, we’ve been able to draw from a 25- to a 30-miles radius, and we’ve grown.”
Where are you drawing from?
“We draw from all over St. Louis. We had a lot of naysayers that said you can’t put up a place like that in Maryville and expect to do enough volume. And we just thought that if we came up with something really special, like they say, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and we did our homework and we researched it before we ever broke ground and came up with a concept that works.”
What were you doing prior to that?
“I was in the grocery business with my father and my wife, Debbie. She and I worked for my father in the grocery business for several years, and my dad had the opportunity to sell his business. With my parents’ help and my wife’s parents’ and my wife’s stepmom’s help, we started this business. They were all influential in helping us get started and were very supportive. I can’t thank them enough.”
Why frozen custard?
“I don’t mind mentioning Ted Drewes because they made it famous in the St. Louis area. Ted Drewes’ dad is the one that brought it to the St. Louis area, and we basically, as far as I know, were the first ones to bring that style and that method to the east side. I like to think that we were the first; even though it was already popular in the St. Louis area. It was amusing to us that people, even though we put up a sign of a cone, not everybody knew what frozen custard was.”
What is the difference between frozen custard and ice cream?
“There’s two big differences. One, in order to be called frozen custard, it should have eggs in it, and it should have 10 percent butter fat. What makes ours special is the machines that it’s made out of. You can run the mix through a lot of machines, but the ones that we use, our product is made the old-fashioned way. What I mean by that is there’s very little air. The most air that you can put in this product is 5 to 10 percent. Where a soft-serve ice cream can have 50 to 75 percent air. And that’s why when you see someone pull a handle and they make a cone, it fluffs it up. Ours is so dense that you can’t do that. Even though it’s soft, you have to hand dip it, which gives it that density, flavor and consistency, which is unusual. The reason a lot of people don’t offer this style or method of making frozen custard is because it is expensive to make, the machines are expensive and it’s very labor intensive. We have a staff in the summer of up to 50 employees.”
How long does it take to make?
“I guess we can make a five-gallon bucket in about 20 minutes. It’s so hands on. You have to really pay attention. It is not something that is computerized and you just push a button and it comes out. You control how dense it is. You have to monitor it. You have to constantly keep the top full. We pour it in a bucket, and we bring it out. It’s not automatically fed. The way we run the operation each girl at the window has two people helping her. So on a real busy summer night, we’ll have 22 employees here. That includes everybody inside, people at the windows, their servers, everybody running the machines, doing dishes, it’s seven days a week. The janitor gets here at seven in the morning, and the duty is shared between four different guys, and they walk out of here a lot of times at 11 or 11:30 at night. We work when everybody else plays. That’s kind of the nature of this business.”
What have you enjoyed most about this business?
“My wife and I have found that one of the neatest things about this business is, when we weren’t open two or three days, we both looked at each other and said, ‘Everybody is so happy.’ This is a happy business. Everyone is in a good mood who comes up to get custard. Kids love it. Adults love it. It’s comfort food. It’s a place to get away. Not only is the custard good, but we try to create an experience. I’m all about having fun. I’d say that’s the main thing that I focus on, to try to create a fun atmosphere. It’s more than just a place to get ice cream.”