|Silveria: A passion for ice cream, mentoring|
|Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer|
|June 13, 2014 07:11 pm|
Pat Silveria decided to retire from a life of accounting — for one of ice cream.
She and her sister, Willa, wanted to own their own business. It had to be something the area didn’t already have, in a place that was up-and-coming and one through which they could give back to the community.
The answer was ice cream, and the name would be Slugs n’ Stones n’ Ice Cream Cones, a name that piqued the curiosity of their 76-year-old aunt from a list of names Silveria had crafted in her dreams one night.
And the perfect location was — or would become — the Port of Brookings Harbor.
“The first three years, we had no sewer and water, and were licensed as a mobile unit,” Silveria recalled. “All the freezers and the sink unit had to be on wheels.”
The port eventually garnered a grant to build the boardwalk and a loan for the retail complex, which enabled them to hook up to basic infrastructure, revamp the kitchen, expand the patio and add more freezers.
“We were ecstatic we didn’t have to carry dishwater to the restrooms to empty a few times a day, or haul in 40 gallons of water at a time to fill our holding tank,” Silveria said.
She and Willa, who liked to operate behind the scenes, taste-tested at least a half-dozen different ice cream brands before they opted for Umpqua Dairy.
“The smoothness; it’s clean in flavor, it’s creamy,” Silveria said. “It doesn’t stick in your mouth. It boldly states that they use cows that haven’t had antibiotics or growth hormones.”
Mint chocolate chip, marionberry, strawberry cheesecake, praline pecan, passion fruit sherbet — of the dozens available, Silveria’s favorite is chocolate peanut butter.
She began hiring — and then, only girls with perfect grade-point averages.
“I knew they wouldn’t be as much work to train,” she said, with a laugh. “No. They’ve already proven themselves responsible, there’s a factor of honesty about them and they’re self-starters. They’re also very much team players. They’re more worried about their schooling than gossiping about who wore what to school, or which girl is fighting with which boy.”
If she got complaints — mostly from the boys — she’d ask if they were willing to wear long sleeves and a hair net. They backed off.
But Silveria had an ulterior motive.
Her first marriage was one filled with abuse, and it would be years before she could escape. She didn’t want other girls to unknowingly walk into that kind of life — and education was key to avoiding it. She encouraged them to learn as much as they could while working at the shop.
Under her tutelage, the girls — some as young as 12, who were relegated to cleaning tables and cleaning scoops — learned how to fill out their own tax returns, keep track of daily sales, balance quarterly reports — “and not on a computer. On paper. It held them in good stead, to impress college employers,” Silveria said.
It paid off. The former “scoopers,” as she called them — seven were class valedictorians and four, salutatorians — graduated in the top 10 percent of their class and are now attorneys, nurses, accountants, teachers, a psychologist, an ecology and traffic engineer. The list might soon sport a brain surgeon, as well.
“I wanted them to be the best they could be,” Silveria said. “If they needed to work, it was because their parents couldn’t afford to put them through college.”
Some have returned to the area, including Katlyn Voight-Temple, a librarian; Vanita Carrillo-Rush, at C&K Markets administration and Jade Brady, at Umpqua Bank.
“Jade was a good one,” Silveria said. “She told me ‘You can’t make me do payroll; you can’t make an accountant out of me.’ I said, ‘You’re going to do it; you’ll need it some day,’ and here she is, at the bank.”
Through her, the girls would learn payroll and bookkeeping skills, how to be a no-nonsense leader, how to organize their time and prioritize things in life.
“The priorities were school, homework, family, church — if they went — and then, work,” Silveria said. They had to learn to fit it all in. I gave the girls a lot of life lessons.”
If it was a slow day and an employee had homework, she did it at a table at the ice cream shop. If her homework was done, Silveria assigned her an essay, typically about China, where her own parents had lived.
In two decades, only two girls were reluctantly fired, and one was laid off.
Erratic schedules forced girls to work in odd shifts — two hours here, six there — and they agreed to give all their tips back to the community, to either the Oasis House Women’s Shelter in Gold Beach or the South Coast Humane Society.
That was a lesson to give to those less fortunate, and to let the women at the shelter understand that people cared.
The ice creamery sported 33 flavors — and two more seasonal ones in the summer. To gear up for big weekends, Silveria had to stash tubs all over town: her freezer at home, her mother’s house, at Shop Smart grocery, the Dragon Gate restaurant — even in the port’s Ice House, where she tiptoed through icy water and slippery tuna fish to retrieve the delectables.
And she wanted to help the port grow. Silveria was involved in numerous events there — the chili and chowder cookoffs, the watermelon seed-spitting contest, a dog show and the driftwood art contest — but is best known for the slug races over Azalea Festival weekend.
“I was thinking of the crab races in Crescent City, and thought to get crabs would be a problem,” she said. “And I didn’t think anyone would like me drawing squares on the concrete there and throwing cow patties, wet or dry. But to get slugs wouldn’t be a problem. Everyone has slugs.”
The races were on, and have become a mainstay of the weekend’s activities.
Among the goals Silveria and her sister set out to accomplish was to maintain a family-friendly, affordable business. Hot summer days when the boardwalk was packed with people were the best. But some days in her seven-month season, Slugs and Stones might only take in $2.50.
By 2013, Silveria’s health and age convinced the sisters it was time to sell. They did so, to Darla and Marc Winegarden, who own Bandon’s Best Kettle Korn.
In her retirement, Silveria will continue taking treks to China through her company, Regent China Tours.
And she’s always excited when a former scooper stops in for a visit.
“It’s the first place they stop in town,” Silveria said. “They call their parents, who say, ‘What are you doing at Slugs and Stones?’ ‘Oh, we had to get a hug and an ice cream cone.’ They’re great kids; absolutely great kids.”
Silveria said she already misses them and her regular customers.
“I miss the young ladies and the joy they brought to each workday,” she said. “It made it worth getting up and working long hours. We liked to think we helped the families turn out some fantastic and well-rounded young women who we will never forget. We made a lot of good friends.”