Sugar Creek scoops up sweets: Fair favorite to open store in Strasburg

Melissa Hooser, owner of Sugar Creek Snowy and Sweet Co., dips ice cream out of her stand at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds this week. Rich Cooley/Daily

Fairgoers have dozens of foods to choose from – every delicacy imaginable, from chili-cheese dogs to deep-fried Oreos. This week, as the sun blazes down, Melissa Hooser stands alone as a Strasburg business owner offering sweet relief from the heat.

Hooser’s Sugar Creek Snowy and Sweet Co. is a permanent feature at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, and her new storefront will open in Strasburg later this year.

“People ask us why we’re taking so long to open up,” Hooser said. “We want to do it right the first time. A lot of businesses open up, and they do it too quick. We want to take our time and just do it right.”

Hooser has been hitting fairs and festivals for the last six years, operating carts and stands under the moniker The Virginia Smashers.

“I used to be a book rep in the schools and in the summertime there’s nothing going on,” Hooser said. “The schools are closed. So back in 2012, I decided to try this concession business and see what it’s all about.”

The Smashers offered a range of treats from lemonade to deep-fried goodies. After incessant questioning about whether she had ice cream, Hooser decided to branch out — starting a year-long search for the best ice cream she could find.

Her search for the perfect ice cream took her all over the state. Hooser said she wanted to find something that wasn’t available locally — something unique. A small shop in Dayton called Grammie’s offered Hooser everything she was looking for.

“I went in and got an ice cream cone,” she said. “And my search was over. I knew that was the ice cream we wanted to get.”

Following conversations with Grammies, Hooser struck up a partnership with a Mennonite creamery in Pennsylvania. Hooser swears this is the best ice cream she has ever had but doesn’t want to give up the name of her supplier. Sugar Creek and Grammie’s are the only shops in the state where anyone can get their hands on this particular treat.

“We are the only two they partner with right now,” Hooser said about the exclusive partnership. “I try to keep that kind of hush-hush. We just say it’s a Mennonite creamery in PA.”

While Hooser’s concessions have become a staple for Shenandoah County fairgoers, her road to the valley was a rocky one. Her Ohio roots burst through as she tears up talking about how she got the name, Sugar Creek.

“It’s where I’m from,” Hooser said. “And I always wanted to go home. But I can’t.”

Hooser is from a small Ohio township called Sugar Creek. The beautiful Amish country is where she grew up, but she doesn’t call it home anymore. She came to the Shenandoah Valley in 1999 for work and put down roots because of her kids.

“I didn’t want to bounce them all over the place either,” Hooser said. “I want them to be able to say, ‘This is where I’m from.’ When they’re 50 years old, maybe they’ll name a shop ‘Shenandoah’ because that’s where they’re from. That’s how important Ohio was to me. That’s why I wanted to name my shop Sugar Creek.”

Sugar Creek’s business is booming, as at least one re-supply run to Pennsylvania has been made already. Hooser wasn’t sure how much she’d gone through but said the hot days were helping.

“All I know is we are scooping a lot of ice cream,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll probably have carpal tunnel by the time it’s done.”

Summer success, a taste for hometown comfort and support from her fiance Tim Wiles pushed Hooser to pursue a storefront location. Wiles is Hooser’s partner in life as well as in the business. The two co-own Sugar Creek.

“It doesn’t matter what crazy, stupid idea I come up with, he says ‘babe, let’s try it.'” Hooser said about Wiles’ support. “Him and I have both said we don’t want to live with that regret where we wonder, ‘what if we would have done it?'”

In order to leave nothing on the table, Hooser is finding ways to give back to the community. Each night she is staffing her stand with volunteers from local programs and giving 20 percent of her proceeds to them. When her storefront opens, she said she would have an old-fashioned pay phone set up as a bank. All the change deposited will go to Coats for Kids.

Hooser said she loves what she does, but she wants to have time to be with her family. Her store will be closed on Sundays so she can have at least one day a week to focus on what is most important to her.

“I wanted to do something that would allow me to be at every basketball game for my daughter Emma and not in a book warehouse at 10 p.m. each night,” Hooser said. “The one thing that doesn’t cost a dime is giving our kids our time.”