Serving up homemade ice cream and out-of-this-world Italian beef, The Spotted Cow has been a staple on the local dining scene for nearly three decades.
When it comes to passion, sometimes you’re just born with it. For Frank Abdnour, owner of The Spotted Cow, it didn’t take much more than a single taste to realize his love for ice cream. “I just love ice cream. I loved it as a kid growing up. It was always a treat,” he declares, reminiscing of childhood days accompanying his mother to Baskin Robbins for a cold, velvety scoop of the good stuff. What took him longer to figure out, though, was how to turn his passion into a profitable business.
A Sweet Opportunity
In the late ‘80s, after spending most of his twenties in Texas and Colorado trying to establish a career in the lawn business, Abdnour, a Peoria native, returned to his hometown, where a pal presented him with a real sweet opportunity. “I was fortunate that I knew a gentleman who used to be… [in the ice cream business],” he recalls. “He was selling machines to make waffle cones, so he had given me a couple machines and said, ‘Why don’t you try selling some ice cream?’”
With just a couple hundred bucks in his pockets, Abdnour set to work building a small, wooden vending cart and scouting a high-traffic location. After searching around town, he came into contact with a guy named Ken Goldin, who happened to be the business manager at Bradley University and gave Abdnour the go-ahead to sell ice cream in front of Bradley Hall. There, students quickly took to a delicious, frozen snack between classes, and Abdnour began his scrumptious journey in the ice cream business. “I would go every day, load my cart up, bake waffle cones at night before, and go… sell ice cream,” he remembers. “I had a blast!”
Eventually, the little pushcart became so popular that Bradley’s food service began struggling to compete and asked him to shut it down. By a stroke of luck, not long after leaving campus, the perfect space became available at the corner of Main and University in Peoria, where Avanti’s now stands. There, Abdnour took a leap of faith, ditching the pushcart to open his very own ice cream parlor, The Spotted Cow, in 1987.
Finding quick success in his new career, Abdnour moved The Spotted Cow to Prospect Road in Peoria Heights that fall. There, he spent a fruitful 19 years doling out creamy confections and, after expanding his operations, soups, salads, sandwiches and more. By 2006, he was ready to take another big chance and commenced construction on his dream restaurant at the corner of Sheridan and Glen, where today, he says business has never been better.
A Homemade Operation
In addition to Italian beef, The Spotted Cow has long been famous for its sometimes eccentrically flavored, always homemade ice cream—but this wasn’t always the case. In the very beginning, Abdnour used a distributor to stock his coolers, until one day “a light bulb went up.” “I was thinking in the back of my head, ‘What is so unique about this? Anybody can buy this kind of ice cream,’” he says. “‘There is nobody in Peoria making their own ice cream. I should be doing this!’”
In this pre-Google era, Abdnour began scouring books and trying out recipes until, after much trial and error, he finally made a batch he could sell. Once he got his technique down, a whole world of flavor possibilities opened up—ranging from fundamentals like chocolate, vanilla and mint chocolate chip to the more unique green tea, lemon-basil and lavender fudge, to the downright outrageous sweet corn, Doritos and bacon!
The ability to churn out ice cream in-store not only enables Abdnour to concoct his own wacky flavors, it allows for The Spotted Cow to be one of the most allergy-friendly diners in town. “I bet there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have somebody with a question about a food allergy,” he notes. “That’s one of the great things about making everything from scratch—we know what’s in it.” The same goes for all of the items on the menu, including several lactose- and gluten-free choices. “Whether it be from the burgers [and] onion ring batter to our ice cream, yogurt, whatever… we know what’s in there, and we can do a lot of custom-made products for people.”
Similarly, The Spotted Cow’s customizable catering service makes for some unique event options. Whether it’s pulled pork and salads for an office meeting or a personalized ice cream cake for a birthday celebration, Abdnour offers kits for all budgets and occasions. “The big trend in weddings right now is ice cream—a sundae bar instead of a cake,” he notes. “We custom-make a flavor for the bride and groom, and they get a kick out of it.”
Customers are even welcome to bring in their own ingredients for Abdnour to whip up a one-of-a-kind ice cream creation. “People will bring things from their garden, [like] fresh black raspberries,” he remarks. “[They’ll ask,] ‘Can you make this… with product right out of my garden?’ ‘Oh, absolutely!’” Sometimes, customer requests even end up in the store, accounting for many of the outlandish flavors available in the case up front. “People will ask for the oddest things I can’t imagine,” he adds. “That’s part of the fun of it—and the challenge.”
Passion and Payoff
While The Spotted Cow’s unconventional offerings and guaranteed-fresh ice cream—usually made within the last 48 hours and always less than 14 days old—make it a standout, Abdnour says what truly sets his place apart is the passion of those helping to run it. “If I don’t make money here, my family doesn’t eat. So I’m here all the time answering people’s needs,” he explains. And with his wife, two children and a dedicated staff behind the counter all doing the same, the community has been happy to support him. “We get tremendous support from the community because they are appreciating more and more locally, independent-owned businesses… Local, small, independent business people are far and few, and I think the general public misses the service they get in all the little niches we supply.
“My wife and I, we toiled a long time… to get to this stage,” he adds. “I’m most proud of the fact I think we are a part of the fabric of Peoria… We have a lot of people who come in here [and say,] ‘Oh gosh! Spotted Cow is one of the places you have to go in Peoria!’ That to me is just awesome. That just awes me every time I hear that.”
After 26 years in business, without question, Abdnour’s hard work has paid off. That’s in evidence every day by the constant crowds of young and old alike enjoying a burger, float or scoop of their favorite homemade ice cream at The Spotted Cow. iBi
The Spotted Cow is located at 718 W. Glen Avenue in Peoria. Find its café and catering menu online at thespottedcow.net, or call (309) 691-1910 for more information.