Bartenders create ice cream company through pandemic, cancer diagnosis

A pair of bartenders in Queens created an ice cream company through a pandemic and a cancer diagnosis.

Shane Kenny is used to being behind the bar slinging drinks, but these days, he’s traded in his shaker for an ice cream scooper.

"I’m an ice cream lover," admits Shane.

Other than being the namesake for Big Shane’s Ice Cream, he’s also the 'master taster.'

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"Because he’s like "Mikey likes it." He takes a bite and it’s either "disgusting" or it’s YES," explained Sarah Pleitez, the co-founder of Big Shane’s Ice Cream.

Sarah is the recipe developer.  She met Shane through bartending but is also a pastry chef.  The flavors are based on Irish-favorites.

"Honeycomb, Banofee.  We use Bailey’s, we use Guinness.  We’re going to throw in household favorites, like custard creams," Sarah listed.

It all started with Shane’s sweet tooth and a challenge to Sarah.

"I asked her one day to make ice cream, me being funny and cheeky," said Shane.

Sarah responded, "I’m like NO, it’s totally different, I come from custom cake world,"

"So," Shane explained, "I went home that night and bought her an ice cream machine."

Sarah giggled, "I was like you’re insane, no I don’t know how to do this."

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"She brought it into the bar and I was like "whoa" this is…this is pretty good!" Shane beamed.

And then, the challenge grew, after a mutual friend requested Margarita ice cream.

"That’s not even a thing. That’s no," said Sarah.

But, she pulled it off.  And that’s when Shane realized a sweet opportunity. 

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The pair soon found Tara Rose Cocktail Bar in Murray Hill where they planned to sell their homemade ice cream.  They even planned a launch party in March 2020 and Shane’s entire family from Ireland flew in.  But the party never took place because the day it was scheduled was the day the entire city shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Call it a 'pandemic pivot.' Shane says you couldn’t write this story or predict it.

The two had gallons of ice cream and started giving it away for free until friends suggested they sell it.  And at a time when no one was leaving their homes, Big Shane’s Ice Cream delivered.

"We were driving around Sunday, Monday, delivering ice cream all around Sunnyside. Then it spread like wildfire, we were doing Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx," recalled Shane.

Sarah added, "So one week it went from handing out 20 pints to the following week we had 150 orders."

As things were taking off over the summer, Shane received startling news.

"I got hit with testicular cancer, that was a kick in the teeth."

But Shane wasn’t going to let it slow him down.  Sarah was right by his side.  Not only as a business partner but stepping in as his family who were more than 3,000 miles away in Ireland.

"It was hard," recalled a teary Sarah, "just to see this really big guy kind of crumble for a minute in front of you, is rough to watch.  All I wanted to do was be his family and help him through it, so I did."

And so did the community of Sunnyside, Queens, where Shane lives.  Deliveries continued during the off-weeks of Shane’s chemo treatments.

"You’re in survival mode, you’re in ‘Let’s get this, let’s do this, let’s beat this, we can do it’," said Sarah.

And that is what Shane did.

"So I just finished chemo the week of Christmas,  I feel bloody fantastic," Shane said.

Now, about a year since the launch of Shane’s Ice Cream was canceled, a new date is on the horizon.  Early May.  And their dreams for the company couldn’t be bigger.

"Ultimate goal," Shane stated, "is to go to Ireland and sell in Ireland."

With a smile, Sarah included a bit more detail, "Our goal is to be in the fields of County Meade, milking our own cows, making our own ice cream when we’re 80 years old."

So sometimes when life hands you lemons, there is a way to turn it into something sweeter.