TRUFANT — It has been open only a little over a month, yet the new ice cream business, Shorty’s Sugar Shack, has accumulated many heart-felt stories already.
There’s the story of two sisters following in their parents’ footsteps in owning a business. There’s the story of tragedy of one sister losing her husband and having to start life over again. But there’s also the story of how one business in a small community has quickly become a beacon for area residents, families and visitors to gather and enjoy one another’s company and enjoy some cool, tasty treats.
Owner Christina Versluis, 36, and her sister, Kasey Brown, 33, who is the manager at Shorty’s, have been around their parents’ businesses ever since they were kids. Their parents, Donna and Dennis Brown, ran Kelly’s Restaurant in Cedar Springs for a brief period and owned and operated a dollar store in Greenville called Denny’s Dollar Store. What they learned from their parents as busines owners has helped both Versluis and Brown in their new endeavor.
“We grew up in the family businesses, and always were working there (both th restaurant and dollar store), helping our parents,” Brown said.
Versluis has instilled her parents’ work ethics into her staff of 10 workers, but she has also begun to realize and appreciate what her parents went through to keep a business going and thriving.
“We put so much time in getting this place opened and running it that I always have to remind myself that I have a family to take care of, too,” said Versluis, who has two children, Caleb, 13, and Jasmine, 10, along with Brown’s four children, Karson, 14, Kody, 12, Patricia, 5, and Buddy, 2. “It’s hard sometimes to separate family from your employees because you care for them, too. We’ve been training our staff since we opened, but it feels more like we are raising another family.”
For Versluis, family is everything. When she lost her husband, Jason Versluis, in a tragic accident in May 2013 while living in Kansas City, it shattered her and her family’s lives. But it was her family back home that helped her cope with her loss and has helpd her get back on her feet.
“I had no idea what to do at that time,” Versluis said. “So I decided to go back home and we moved in with my sister.”
After moving back to Michigan, Versluis still had to decide what to do with her life.
“I know if Jason had it his way, he would’ve wanted me to do what I wanted to do,” she said.
Thus, Versluis and Brown decided they wanted to run a business together, but not just any business.
“We wanted a place for people to be able to hang out and be together,” Versluis said. “We thought maybe a bar at first, but decided on an ice cream shop because that was more family-oriented.”
Versluis, Brown and their children decided to name the new shop after Jason’s nickname, “Shorty.” After much remodeling, with the help of family friend Bill Howard of Trufant and Versluis’ boyfriend, Thomas Rice, and his 14-year-old daughter, Destinee, Shorty’s Sugar Shack became a reality.
“In Trufant, there’s not much for a family to do around here, and there’s no real kid-friendly place to go,” Versluis said. “This is a great place for everyone to come and enjoy and spend time together.”
Open year-around and holding summer evening hours until 10 p.m. every day, Shorty’s offers 16 hard ice cream flavors and more than 40 flavors in soft ice cream, which can be made into slushies, shakes and malts, too. Shorty’s biggest sell is it Walking Banana Split, which is also popular in a “flurry” style.
Along with ice cream, Shorty’s offers burgers — including a dressed-to-the-nine’s Shorty’s Burger — hot dogs, gyros and a loaded steakhouse potato salad.
Shorty’s seats only 12 people inside, but the sisters are planning to soon expand the place to accommodate 75 people. They are already working on expanding the kitchen.
Versluis and Brown also have plans to bring in live, outdoor music, a car and motorcycle show and install a volleyball area with sand to hold tournaments during the summer. People are able bring their beverage coolers to Shorty’s during special events, too, although they are not permitted inside.
“We really want to be part of the community and be a place where people and families can come and hang out,” Brown said. “We’re really trying to get out there in the community.”
Shorty’s is located at 1274 Kohler’s Road in Trufant. Call (616) 200-5360 for more information.