“I’m a real fan of Las Vegas for the ice cream business – who doesn’t want to eat ice cream when it’s 110 degrees outside?” asked Bob Dawson, managing member of Gus Dean’s, which operates two ice cream shops in Southern Nevada. Dawson and his partner, Jerry Tysinger, have been in the food business for many years, but Gus Dean’s is their first ice cream venture.

North Carolina to Southern Nevada

The duo started out in North Carolina in 1997 with a company called Whole Harvest Foods, producing soybean meal for the livestock industry. Their business soon expanded into other offerings, including the first trans-fat-free frying oil for commercial food service, which they sold nationwide. As demand grew, Dawson came to North Las Vegas in 2013 to establish a packaging and distribution center to serve the Western U.S. He was impressed by Nevada’s business-friendly environment and divided his time between Las Vegas and North Carolina.

After Whole Harvest Foods was sold to a Global 100 company in 2015, the partners looked for other opportunities in the food sector. Tysinger researched the idea of opening an ice cream business in the Bahamas with his good friend, Gus Dean, a native Bahamian. “We loved the idea, but not the Bahamas location,” said Dawson, partly because milk had to be shipped in and could cost up to $10 a gallon. Las Vegas seemed like a better opportunity for an ice cream business. Although Gus Dean wasn’t interested in moving out of the Bahamas, he agreed to let the partners use his name and likeness in the logo, making that his investment in their new venture.

After extensive market research, Gus Dean’s opened in Las Vegas in 2019 and expanded quickly into four “scoop shops”: UNLV, Meadows Mall, Nellis Air Force Base, and Pawn Stars Plaza downtown. “Unlike other ice cream products, Gus Dean’s Ice Cream is made with butter, in lieu of cream,” explained Dawson. “The result is a clean, perfectly creamy texture that ice cream lovers crave.” The sweet treats come in a variety of flavors, from classic chocolate and vanilla to their signature Rebel Red, which includes strawberry ice cream, almonds and Oreo cookie pieces. The team at Gus Dean’s is constantly working on new flavors and combinations, and they also offer “craft milkshakes” that allow customers to make up their own blend of flavors.

Local Economy Hits the Deep Freeze

Just as the new company was hitting its stride, it was sideswiped by the COVID-19 virus, which resulted in the shutdown of all “non-essential” businesses in March, including their Gus Dean’s scoop shops. Hearing about the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Dawson reached out to the national bank where he had his business accounts, but no one would return his urgent phone messages. After more than a week, he decided to call Nevada State Bank and spoke to Business Banker Jeannette Perez. “Jeanette immediately responded and said she would be happy to help with my PPP loan. I wasn’t even a customer of NSB—but she got [the loan] done,” said Dawson, who was stranded at his North Carolina home when airline flights were cancelled.

“Jeanette worked very hard to help, answering phone calls at 8-9 pm Eastern Time, which meant it was after business hours in Las Vegas. She could not have represented the bank any better. As a businessman, I really appreciated someone reaching out and helping me.” NSB’s Jennifer Turner, business banking sales manager, helped Dawson set up Gus Dean business accounts and arrange for the banking products they needed, including merchant services and a business credit card.

The PPP loan enabled Gus Dean’s to keep its staff employed by covering a full month of payroll while the four shops were closed. The Governor’s Phase 2 has relaxed some restrictions, but with UNLV shut down and Nellis no longer allowing visitors on base, those two shops remain closed. The Meadows Mall and downtown locations reopened, although it’s not quite “business as usual.”.

Looking Toward the Future

Despite the challenges in the current economy, Dawson is intent on following a large-scale expansion plan. Gus Dean’s is opening a shop in the Venetian now. Future plans include a shop in the downtown Arts District, and more in high-end Strip properties, Henderson and Summerlin. He wants to eventually have 10-15 scoop shops locally, and then move throughout the West and even nationally. “We went national and then international with our cooking oil,” he said, “so I know how it’s done. I’ve always set the bar high and I’m ambitious.”

Gus Dean’s partners expressed their thanks to Jeanette and Jennifer at Nevada State Bank for going the extra mile to make sure their loan was funded and their new business banking products and services were set up. “It was an easy decision to move from my old bank to Nevada State Bank,” said Dawson. “They really care about people.”

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The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC