21-year-old ice cream shop owner is ready for second season

The first customer of the day puts in an order at Sweet Haley’s, an ice cream shop and restaurant at 917 W. Beardsley Ave., which is owned by 21-year-old Haley Szarwark. 

ELKHART — A brightly colored little ice-cream shop is situated at 917 W. Beardsley Ave.

Before it got its new pink, purple and blue colors it was known as the Curly Cone, but under new ownership it has become Sweet Haley's.

Haley Szarwark, the owner, is 21 years old, but this is her second season running the shop.

She has been working in the business since she was 14 and said that experience has a great deal to do with her ability to become the owner of a restaurant by age 20.

"I didn't actually expect it to go this far," Szarwark said of her involvement in the ice cream business, which only began because her mom asked the owner of a different shop to give Szarwark a job to keep her out of trouble.

"I am beyond shocked that I did this. This literally turned my life around, because, before I bought this I didn't know what I was doing," she said.

Her growing up was affected by the high unemployment in the area during The Great Recession, making it impossible for Szarwark's parents to send her to college, she said.

"Not only that, but I was not one who really liked school. I hated high school more than anything," she said.

So when Szarwark, who said she barely graduated, was presented with the idea to be the owner of an ice cream store by her former boss, it was a way to take control of her own life, she explained.

"I was like, 'You know what? I'm not going to know what life has in store for me until I actually go and do it,' " she said.

She first opened Sweet Haley's during the summer of 2018, and since then there has been plenty of learning by doing for the young business owner.

"It's nuts for how much you learn all on your own," she said. "You don't learn how to do taxes in school, you don't learn how to do all that stuff, you don't know how to budget your money."

And Szarwark is not just responsible for herself. She employs the help of about half a dozen people, which, at a young age, presents some challenges.

"I've had people older than me work for me, and I can sense the tension that it's difficult for someone to have someone younger than them tell them what to do," Szarwark said. "Being my own boss and being someone else's boss is such a learning experience. You learn that you can't be so soft on people all the time, because that's what I did."

Szarwark said many customers ask who the new owner of the restaurant is, and when she tells them that she is, people have been very supportive, giving high fives and encouraging her.

Some tell their children that they should be like her when they graduate high school, she said.

But with owning, and running, her own business as a young adult comes with sacrifices.

"Being so young, you're just like 'Oh my gosh, I want a new phone,' or 'I want to go out and buy new clothes, I want to buy a new pair of shoes, I want to go on a trip with my friends,'" she said. "It has stopped me from doing so many of those things. The only time I ever get to see my friends anymore is when they come to see me."

She said she does not take days off, because she wants to make sure that everything runs the way it should.

With her ownership and her employees being new, she's not yet ready to leave the shop to someone else, even for a day.

"I have to be here. This is my responsibility," Szarwark said.

But it will be worth it, she said. Perhaps because she loves the job and the community around the restaurant. Right behind Sweet Haley's is a residential area, but there is also a high amount of workers who come by for lunch.

"I literally love talking to every single one of them," she said. "I feel like it's more like a family instead of just clientele-basis."

And business is going well, according to Szarwark, who gets a lot of foot traffic from the neighborhood. One person jokingly complains that her store is too close to his home, because it can be difficult to stay away, she said.

"People around here love pork tenderloin," she said. "I sell so many pork tenderloins and so many cheeseburgers. It's ridiculous. But, I mean, I have to admit they're really good."

Not everyone knows what or where Sweet Haley's is yet, but when people hear it's the old Curly Cone, most recognize it and are excited, Szarwark said.

And over time, she wants Sweet Haley's to be a place that people in all of Elkhart know about.

"I want to make it back to being another staple of Elkhart," she said.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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