An Interview with Nik Pappas, Owner of Pav’s Creamery
Interview by Noor Hindi
Noor Hindi: Tell me about Pav’s Creamery.
Nick Pappas: In the early 1960s a guy named Robert Pavlik, his nickname was Pavs, had it for a few years and then sold it to my grandfather who worked at Firestone. [My grandfather] used to make tires. He got tired of it, obviously, and saw this as a possible retirement plan for him and his wife, so he purchased it in the 70s and it’s been in my family ever since. It’s been fun. My first memory was in Portage Lakes, at Pav’s, playing at the store. And now here we are, still there, still playing.
NH: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
NP: My favorite ice cream, I think, would be pistachio. But with hot fudge. It has to be with hot fudge. It’s perfect. It’s the best combination ever. That’s my personal go to.
NH: When and why did you take up ownership of Pav’s?
NP: My mom still technically owns the brand. What happened was I was in hotels for a long time. And in 2012, I moved back home from an island off the coast of Somalia to take over my family’s business. But my mom wasn’t ready to give up the business. At that time, we only had the Portage Lakes location and she really wasn’t interested in selling. So, what I started doing was I started creating a different division within Pav’s, which is the wholesale division. And then it grew from there. And then when the wholesale division took off I started opening up more stores. I have North Canton, Cuyahoga Falls, and Green. She still runs the Portage Lakes. Cuyahoga Falls is still under construction.
NH: Did you always want to be a business owner?
NP: No. It’s kind of evolved over time. I knew I wanted to do more with the business. I knew that the potential for the ice cream shop was more than what it was. Outside of Portage Lakes, Coventry, nobody knew Pav’s. My goal was to grow the brand.
NH: If your family hadn’t owned Pav’s Creamery, do you think you would still be an entrepreneur?
NP: In some sort of way. Honestly, at one point, I remember I was living in Australia and I called my mom and I said ‘sell the business. Go retire. Sell. I don’t want it, my sister is a nurse. Sell. Don’t worry about me, hotels is all I want to do.’ And then after 12 years of hotels, I just got really burnt out and decided that I wanted to try something new.
I never worked at Pav’s growing up. I never wanted to be a part of it. I never was interested in ice cream. I hate ice cream, I’m lactose intolerant. So, I have small, small doses of it. It was never really my thing until I got older and realized that this is too good to let go.
NH: Why were you burnt out from your job?
NP: My wife and I had our first child. He was probably two or three. We were living off an island in the Indian Ocean. We were always travelling. I was so far away. I was just burnt out. When you get in the hotel game, it’s 24/7. That’s what I was living. There were perks to it, but it wasn’t worth being away from my family and I’d rather just work for myself, I realized. I was like ‘You know what? Screw working for someone else. I’m going to work for myself and see what I can do.’ It was a big risk.
When I left I was like ‘You know what? I’m going to go to Portage Lakes. There’s tons of bars and restaurants around and I’m just going to sell it to them.’ To this day, not one restaurant in Portage Lakes sells my ice cream. I was totally thrown off. And it took me so long to develop the wholesale thing.
NH: Why wouldn’t they sell your ice cream?
NP: A lot of restaurants want cheap ice cream. And my ice cream isn’t cheap. They don’t care about quality ice cream because a lot of times they’re just going to dump stuff on it anyway and you’re not even going to taste it. So it was a learning curve, but we got there in the end.
NH: What’s the difference between cheap ice cream and expensive ice cream?
NP: Air. It’s called overrun. With cheap ice cream, you can tell by its weight. Because what happens is, when they throw ice cream in a machine, they dump air into it and it makes it bigger than what it is. The more air you have in your ice cream, the more overrun. So what you put in there you’re going to get double or triple of it, but it’s full of air.
For ours, there’s 20 percent overrun in it. So it’s really heavy and quality and creamier and richer.
NH: Did you know this going into the business?
NP: Hell no! I didn’t know anything. I was so naive. I was so not ready for it. But over time, you figure things out.
NH: How did you go from a secure job to risking it and jumping into Pav’s?
NP: It was a huge roll of the dice. It was the biggest crapshoot I have ever done. I gave myself three months to make it work.
NH: Your family owned it for so many years and they didn’t really want to expand. How did you get them to expand? What motivated you to take that next step?
NP: For everything you do there’s going to be a risk or reward. And if it blows up, it blows up. But as it grew, I felt more and more secure that this was going to work. It’s a huge roll of the dice but you have to take those chances. Sometimes you just have to do it.
NH: It sounds like that’s just part of your personality, to risk it.
NP: Yeah. [Screw] it. That’s exactly what I say. If it fails, it fails.
NH: Do you think you have to have a ‘screw it’ mentality to be a successful business owner?
NP: Yes. Absolutely. A lot of people are afraid to take a chance. And if you don’t take a chance, you’ll never know. When I was 21 years old, I was living in North Canton. All my friends were graduating college. I was never, ever a college graduate or close to being one. All I had was a fitness background. I was big into martial arts, big into boxing. But I got a job on a cruise ship in fitness in England. And I just moved all the way across the world. I took a chance and moved all the way to South Hampton, England, and I did that for five years. I travelled the world for five years and then it got me into hotels because cruise ships is hospitality, and then I left that as regional director of spas for a company just with a high school degree.
I’m all about taking chances. If you bust your ass and you work and you believe in yourself, you’ll achieve.
NH: How do you stay motivated?
NP: My bills motivate me. My kids motivate me. There’s no get rich quick schemes in opening up your own business. There’s tons of responsibility. And I can’t relax knowing that people have invested in me and my business and my work ethic. I owe it to them, whether its family or investors, to bust my ass.
NH: That’s a lot of pressure.
NP: Hell yeah, it’s a lot of pressure. And then you’ve got rent and everything else that adds up. It’s not healthy. But I try to work out, I try to find ways to release stress.
NH: Do you think your fitness background has prepared you for this?
NP: I think it’s a factor. Because in boxing, you have to learn how to get punched and get back up. And I’ve taken my fair share of punches. It sucks. I remember there were times where I walked out of the ring with tears in my eyes. Just being like, ‘What the [heck] am I doing?’ Like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It sucks, you get your ass kicked but then you get back in there and you don’t quit. Like I said, you have to have that drive. Like, nothing is easy. In business, nothing is easy, in life, nothing is easy. In sports, there’s nothing easy. You have to just keep grinding.
NH: Why do you love what you do?
NP: Because it’s mine. Because it’s my family’s name. Because it’s good. This is a good product. This is a good I’ve worked hard developing and creating. And my family has sacrificed to have.
NP: I have a 1 year old and a 9 year old. Luca was born in Sydney, Australia, and Max was just born a year-and-a-half ago. And yeah, this is the future of Pav’s. Two kids eating ice cream. It’s pretty cute.
NH: What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs?
NP: Surround yourself with positive people, number one. I think that’s huge. There’s a lot of people out there that will doubt you, that will not support you. And any negativity out there, destroy it. Don’t even be around it. Don’t even surround yourself with it. Just keep moving. That’s number one. And believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s never going to work. Those two things, and bust your ass. It’s a grind everyday, seven days a week, forever. It’s not glamorous. It’s tough.
NH: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
NP: Sleep on it. That’s my biggest lesson. Because I’m a very reactive person. I’ll get the best idea ever and go, go, go. And just do it. And then the next day, I’m like maybe I shouldn’t have been so eager. I’m very impatient. So, sleep on it. When you have an idea, a good idea, give it time. Just wait. That’s probably my best advice.
NH: Why should people visit Pav’s?
NP: Because it’s good! I’ll tell you this, Akron is home to some of the best ice cream. Strickland’s is phenomenal, Handel’s is very good, Pav’s is right there with them. I’m really impressed with what this small area has done.
(All photos courtesy of Nik Pappas and Pav’s Creamery)