Will Vanderwende realized at a young age that he didn’t want to follow in the family footsteps and become a dairy farmer like his grandparents, parents and two older brothers. His interests were more aligned with his family’s other venture, ice cream. The family opened their first ice cream shop in July 2012.

Will was 13 years old and going into eighth grade when his parents decided to open the shop next to the family’s home on Vanderwende Farms in Bridgeville, Delaware. “Mom would take me to all the meetings, and I would go to the site every day, and I saw the store be built.” It was a pivotal moment for him, Will says. “I think being that age was very important because I understood what was happening. I understood that my parents were taking a risk. And I was with them through the whole process.” The experience stayed with Will and helped cement his career path. He wanted to own a business and work for himself, and he opted to open an ice cream shop. “I knew a lot about ice cream. It logically made sense for me to do this,” Will says. “My family never put pressure on me to be involved with the farm because they knew farming is something you have to be passionate about. And if you’re not, it’s not going to work.” Will, the youngest of three, left for the University of Delaware in pursuit of a degree in Food and Agribusiness Marketing and Management. “I’ve always done things differently and followed my own path,” he says.

Will Vanderwende with customers in his newly-opened ice cream store in 2022.

Before graduating in the spring of 2021, Will, with full support of his family, had started the process of opening his own business in Pennsylvania. Not all businesspeople took him seriously in his quest, Will says. “I wanted someone to look at me as a young adult and to be excited to hear what I had to say and who wasn’t questioning if I’m capable of pulling this off.” That didn’t deter Will and he moved forward with his plans.

Will, now 24-years-old, is the proud owner of Vanderwende Farm Creamery in Philadelphia.  “I always tell people that we do the traditional flavors and we do them very well,” he says. A wall inside the shop proudly displays his family’s story, from the farm in Delaware to Will’s journey to the City of Brotherly Love. “There’s a mural with Delaware and it says, ‘Delaware Proud,’ and there’s images of my grandfather in 1954, with one of the six of his first herd and pictures of my grandmother from the same time, and images of the farm when it was purchased,” Will says. “And I just love always referring people to that informational board because it helps them see it how it unraveled and feel a connection between my shop and the farm.”

His ice cream shop brings Will a sense of closeness to his family and roots, especially to his late grandfather William, whom Will is named after. “I see a lot of similarities in me and my grandfather. He started all this.” His grandparents, William and Ellen Vanderwende, purchased the farm in 1954. “After everything was said and done, they had six milking cows and 35-dollars,” Will says of his grandparents. “Sure, he was with my grandmother, but he went his own way and just did it. It was like a new direction for him. I think about that from time to time, that I’m kind of making my own path and setting my own direction like he did.”

“Dairy farming can be a rigorous and demanding lifestyle. Just because that was not my personal interest or passion does not mean that I do not appreciate it. And I can’t stress that enough,” Will says.

Nearly 70 years later, Vanderwende Farms milks 225 registered Holsteins. “I’m very proud to say that as a family, we really care about the cows,” Will says. “For example, cows hate heat. There are misters to help them keep cool and stay comfortable.” When cows are comfortable and content, they also produce more milk. “I’m really grateful that we were raised to respect them and to be appreciative of the milk they produce,” he says.

Milk from Vanderwende Farms is picked up, along with milk from other local farms, and sent to a processing facility for pasteurization and made into an ice cream mix. “The ice cream mix comes back to Vanderwende Farm Creamery and is put into one of our four batch freezers,” Will says. Then they create the small-batch homemade ice cream that Vanderwende’s is known for. “We add our ingredients to it. Mint Chocolate Chip, for example, is a mint flavoring, a green color and chocolate chips.” It comes out of the batch freezer looking like soft-served ice cream, he says, and needs to harden for eight hours before it’s ready to go. “We have four batch freezers that make no more than 10 gallons at a time.” Will says that’s enough to fill four of the Vanderwende’s 2.5-gallon ice cream tub containers. At Will’s store, Vanderwende’s offers 32 flavors. The shop owner’s personal go-to is plain vanilla in a cup. “You can tell how good the entire store’s offering will be based off vanilla. Because it all starts there,” Will says. Other traditional flavors offered include chocolate, strawberry, mint chocolate chip and cookie dough. “Maybe the wildest flavor that I have,” he says, “is a berry cheesecake ice cream, which is essentially blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and a cake formulated for ice cream.”

“Being in business is tough. It doesn’t matter whether the business is an ice cream shop or running a dairy farm. And I feel that being a young entrepreneur makes it harder, you don’t always get taken seriously,” Will says. “But it is rewarding. It’s shown me what I’m capable of and I realize I’m capable of a bit more than I thought I was.” Another rewarding aspect, Will says, is getting to wear different hats of the business. “You wear the human resources hat, you wear the marketing hat, the management, operations and accounting hats. You get to try your hand at all of it.” Even with all the hands-on practice he’s getting at his shop, Will wants to learn more. He’s heading back to school this fall to earn his MBA.

With his own ice cream shop in full swing, it seems Will Vanderwende followed in his parents’ and siblings’ footsteps after all. “My mom’s always been the cheerleader, encouraging us. My dad tells us all the time that he’s proud of what we do. And I know he loves that the individual ice cream shops connect us all.” His parents now own two ice cream shop locations and his brothers each have a location of their own. “People of all walks of life love ice cream. My shop offers people a safe, inclusive and fun environment. And I could be biased,” Will says good naturedly, “but our product is good too.” And while it’s not always easy working with family, Will wouldn’t have it any other way. “Moving to Philadelphia and putting in a store here,” he says, “it’s a different demographic, logistically, but it helps us all because it educates people about dairy.”