Apalachin’s Big Dipper starts 29th year

Apalachin’s Big Dipper starts 29th year

From left, Owego Elementary students Michaela Terry, Shelby Steele and Ashleigh Steele recently stopped by the Big Dipper in Apalachin, N.Y. Their ice cream treats were a big hit. (Photo by JoAnn R. Walter)

Apalachin’s Big Dipper starts 29th year

Big Dipper owner Randy Nurek stands beside his popular establishment located at 6935 State Route 434 in Apalachin, N.Y. With more than 40 flavors of hard ice cream, soft ice cream, and multiple other treats as well as various style hot dogs, burgers, fries and sandwiches, the Big Dipper has been a community favorite for nearly three decades. (Photo by JoAnn R. Walter)

In late March, when Apalachin’s Big Dipper posts their opening day sign along Route 434, it’s another sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Some sporting winter coats and gloves, die-hard Dipper fans showed up for opening weekend which started March 27.

Located at 6935 State Route 434 in Apalachin, N.Y., the Big Dipper, a classic ice cream stand, has attracted regulars and won over new visitors for nearly three decades. This year, 2015, marks the Big Dipper’s 29th season. Owner Randy Nurek, at the helm since 2009, acquired the business from his father Dave, who introduced it in 1986.

With an ideal location along Route 434, the Big Dipper is easily seen and accessible from Route 17. Although a majority of the business pulls in people from the southern tier of New York and northeast Pennsylvania, Randy shared that plenty of travelers stop – including students, vacationers and tractor-trailer drivers. With the popular Big Dipper BBQ right next door, which is under separate ownership, Randy commented that customers often stop by for ice cream after having lunch or dinner at the barbeque.

Also offering lunch and dinner fare, the Big Dipper’s menu features ten styles of burgers and nearly as many hot dog options, both traditional and a little more sophisticated. For sandwich lovers, there are grilled cheese creations, BLT’s, pork barbeque, or a tuna melt. Add a soft pretzel, fries, mozzarella sticks or onion rings, but save room for ice cream afterwards.

Apalachin’s Big Dipper starts 29th year

With help from her mother Rhonda, 12-month old Miranda Sorber of Apalachin enjoyed her first ice cream cone of the season on March 29 during the Big Dipper’s opening weekend. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Big Dipper’s season runs through late September.  (Provided photo)

Today, the Big Dipper features more than 40 hard ice cream flavors, several soft ice cream options, and 20 or more toppings and specialty sauces. Slush puppies and lactose free treats are also available, with a lactose free special announced weekly.

Not surprisingly, the Big Dipper dips a lot of ice cream. Randy explained, “We go through about 5,700 gallons of hard ice cream per season, and about 12,000 gallons of soft ice cream, which includes making milkshakes, too.”

Dave Nurek, who built the Big Dipper from the ground up, recalls giving away free milkshakes to visitors on opening day in 1986 as a way to solicit feedback. As a newbie ice cream stand owner offering four hard ice cream and three soft ice cream flavors, Dave explained that the early days were a learn-as-you-go process.

After working 30 years for the Grand Union supermarket chain, Dave initially pursued restaurant franchise prospects, but opted instead to start his own business. Dave shared, “I remember taking my children to the Owego Soft Serve or Pat Mitchell’s in Endicott, but there really wasn’t anything like it in between.” His decision paid off, and in turn has resulted in a family legacy.

Now retired, when asked about a favorite memory of his Big Dipper days, Dave replied, “I always enjoyed when the young kids ordered their own ice cream.” He said, chuckling, “Kids say the darndest things.”

Not such a good memory, the Big Dipper faced rebuilding after the floods of 2006 and 2011. With three feet of water surrounding the property at the height of their season in June 2006, the Big Dipper closed for several weeks. In 2011, five feet of water engulfed the establishment in September of that year. With the building, freezers and equipment destroyed once again, if there was anything positive that came from the 2011 flood, it was the fact that it hit at the end of the season. Both Randy and Dave Nurek credit several retired carpenter friends who helped them speed up the process of rebuilding.

Randy credits his wife, Renee, for helping and understanding his commitment, and is thankful to his father for setting him up with the business.  Seventy to 80 hour weeks are not uncommon during the ice cream season for Randy, and he is also thankful for his team of dedicated employees, many of whom return every year.

For children, the playground equipment, ride-on carousel and horse, and a collectible penny machine are big hits. Multiple shaded picnic tables and two gazebos are on the premises to enjoy.  Randy doesn’t seem to mind when customers sit and chat for an hour or more after finishing their ice cream, and both Randy and Dave commented that the adults they remember as children are now bringing their own children to the establishment.

“As long as everyone leaves with a smile on their face, we know we’ve done a good job,” is a sentiment Randy and Dave both shared.

The Big Dipper is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. from late March until the end of September and can be reached by calling (607) 625-2848. Ice cream cakes and gift certificates are also available.