By: Diane M. Ross
Planning for retirement can take years, unless you are Tom Peterson, who seemingly made his decision overnight.
Peterson, a retired teacher and baseball coach at Robinson High School in Fairfax County, knew that he was ready to retire but not stop working. In 2008 he opened Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot in his garage, which nestles right in downtown Clifton. It has since become a popular establishment with lines out to the street during the summer.
About ten years ago, Peterson was waiting in line with his young son to get ice cream at a small shop in Fairfax when he realized the potential.
“We can do this in our garage,” he said to his wife Jean, who shared his enthusiasm.
The next day he ripped out his garden.
“If you think about something for too long, you can come up with all sorts of reasons why it won’t work,” Peterson said, explaining his decision.
Fast forward eight years and he has just invested over 35 thousand dollars in new equipment, expanded his menu to include gelato and frozen desserts, and partnered with another local restauranteur, Marcus Silva, to open a second business, The Clifton Ice Cream Company, in Prince William County.
Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot, which started selling hard ice cream just two short years ago,
is a Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2011 ‘Best In Frozen Treats’ Winner.
“It’s all about temperature control,” Peterson said when asked what the secret is to making award winning ice cream. “That, and we only use top of the line products,” he said.
Admitting that he knew nothing about making ice cream when he started his business, Peterson said last year he attended a week-long class at Penn State, where he learned how to craft specialty ice cream. Additionally, he and his wife recently went to New York City where they researched 5 of the best-rated gelato shops.
Peterson, 61, was also the mayor of Clifton for four years and understands how difficult it is to open a business in the small town.
“I’ve had the same set-up for almost 9 years now, and then a new zoning coordinator is hired and I need to add an indoor kitchen with an expensive hood and ventilation system.”
So Peterson bought a food truck from a neighbor and set up his kitchen in that.
When asked about the tough zoning regulations, Peterson shook his head and replied, “I just put it in and will get it approved later.”
He and his wife manage the entire business, from hiring to scheduling, making the ice cream and writing the flavors on the boards. Peterson describes his wife as a creative baker. They especially enjoy creating and naming the flavors together. The latest, Special Ingredient, is a bourbon-based specialty ice cream that is new this season.
Peterson paused during the interview to reply to a text message.
“Sorry, an employee is bagging on me today,” he said in reference to an employee calling off work.
Since his business is sixty steps from his house, Peterson has a very short commute. He and his wife enjoy sitting on their back patio, sipping wine and watching their business boom.