Find more alumni stories and tips for your success in Phoenix Focus.
An airline pilot turned ice cream man, Nindi Wadhwa, MBA ’10, has made his sweetest dreams come true at Scooptacular.
Who would be bold enough to sign a retail lease in February, graduate with an MBA in March, celebrate the birth of a baby in April and open a brand-new business in May? An entrepreneur, that’s who.
Nindi Wadhwa and his wife Carissa opened their mom-and-pop ice cream shop, Scooptacular, in the middle of a whirlwind year, and that’s just the beginning for this growing family and burgeoning business.
Just a few years ago, Wadhwa was a Phoenix-based commercial pilot, flying Dash 8 turbo prop planes on regional routes in the western United States and Mexico. In 2009, he accepted a voluntary year-long furlough from his airline. Not one to lay idle, he decided to earn his MBA at University of Phoenix while taking a break from flying.
“I had a one-year time crunch,” he says. “I took online and on [campus] classes to accelerate the program.” He reached his goal and graduated in March 2010.
At the same time, he and his wife were raising their young family on the outskirts of Phoenix in Laveen, Arizona, and they noticed there wasn’t a lot there for families to do. “We thought it would make sense to do something family friendly and affordable,” he explains. “We had always wanted to start our own business.”
During one of his courses, he decided to use an ice cream shop idea he had for a team project, which gave him the opportunity to vet and refine the concept with instructors and teammates. When the couple noticed a national ice cream chain in the neighborhood had gone out of business, they called the property management company out of curiosity to learn more about the retail space—and the rest is history.
Neither Wadhwa nor his wife had ever made ice cream before, but that didn’t deter them. “We spoke to several industry veterans who recommended taking over an existing restaurant as opposed to a new build. This helped us minimize our initial startup costs,” Wadhwa says. “We also bought the majority of our equipment used.”
They scoured the Internet for resources and found a Yahoo group of mom-and-pop ice cream shop owners. Through them, they found other information and events aimed at helping entrepreneurs new to the industry. “We went to a crash-course ice cream seminar and met a man in Kansas City who opened up and gave us a lot of recipes,” Wadhwa says. “He gave us our foundation.”
With a solid recipe in hand, the Wadhwas set about experimenting in the kitchen with different flavor combinations. “We have done some crazy stuff,” he laughs. “We did a hot dog flavor for the launch of baseball season and turkey and Christmas ham [at the holidays].”
They also create flavors with more mainstream appeal, such as Laveen concrete mix, a caramel ice cream with chocolate rocks and caramel swirls; and play dough, their sweet cream ice cream base brightly colored blue, yellow and red. Wadhwa’s favorite? “Good, old-school cookies and cream,” he admits, “since it was the first flavor we made here.”
Since launching Scooptacular in May 2010, just weeks after the birth of their second baby, the Wadhwas have been hard at work, often with their two kids in tow. “The first year, I’d work 16 to 17 hours per day, sometimes coming in at 2 or 3 in the morning,” he says. During the second year, though, because of his dependable employees, he often is able to work more regular office hours Monday through Friday so he can spend more time with his family.
This is a far cry from the frenzied pace of the past few years, but Wadhwa says the sacrifices were well worth it. He has found that his MBA prepared him to run his own business, and he especially enjoys marketing. “The basic foundation of marketing really stuck with me,” he says of his program. “And I think having to work in learning teams, which at times was challenging and at times was great, has helped me work with different personalities.”
He uses these people skills with Scooptacular’s eight employees, five of whom have been with him since the day he opened and whom he considers to be family. He believes in empowering them to provide top-notch customer service, which is at the heart of his business. “Put yourself in your customers’ shoes,” Wadhwa advises, “and if you feel it is not right, fix it.”
Genuine respect for his customers, along with quality ice cream, has made Scooptacular a hit in the neighborhood. “Success is being involved in the community,” he says. “I love to give back.”
The Wadhwas support local schools, community awareness programs, as well as nonprofits like the American Cancer Society and others. “Without the community, there is no way to survive,” he adds.
In the short term, Wadhwa would like to expand Scooptacular into a franchise concept, and eventually he’d love to work as an executive at an airline. In the meantime, though, he and his family are enjoying the sweet success they’ve created from scratch.
“[This experience] has been amazing in so many different ways,” says Wadhwa. “To get to know our customers and interact with them and to provide a place for people to come and enjoy has been extremely rewarding.”