Sunday , April 15, 2018 - 5:00 AM
In 2007, Larry and Tina Norton opened the popular Italian ice and gelata business Zeppes. But in 2012, a cancer diagnosis changed everything.
The couple met when Larry moved to Utah from Pennsylvania. He had recently retired and came to Utah to snowboard. The fact that he was in his early 60s and she was in her early 40s didn’t keep the two from connecting and falling in love.
“One day we were going out and he said in his eastern accent, ‘let’s go stop for water ice,’” Tina said with a laugh.
She had no idea what water ice was so when they visited his hometown in Pennsylvania, she was able to get a taste of this treat — made with fresh fruit puree, natural flavoring, sugar and water — that he couldn’t stop talking about. That’s when they made the decision to open their own “water ice” business in Harrisville.
“We were scared to death. When doing the math I figured I’d have to sell one every three minutes. People thought we would fail, but it was a hit and people loved it and still do,” she said.
“It was great because we could operate it just half of the year. We were open April to October and it didn’t interfere with his snowboarding, and I could still support my two children and get them through college.”
Zeppes continued to grow, but in 2012 Larry was diagnosed with cancer and the couple made the tough decision to sell Zeppes. Larry went through extensive treatment and then the couple made another life-changing decision.
They went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and bought a 42-foot catamaran that they named “Knot So Easy.”
“I was born and raised in Utah, been on a ski boat at Willard Bay or Lake Powell but that’s it,” she said. “We bought the boat, sold the business, rented out our house and went on a trial run across the Bahamas for about six months.”
They had a captain on the boat with them for about a week teaching them how to sail.
“It was a big boat, in the big ocean, so it was kind of scary,” she laughed.
But not scary enough to keep them away from the lifestyle they would live for the next four years. After the trial run, the two returned to Utah, sold their home in Huntsville and left to be island hoppers, sailing from one island to the next.
“There is something magical about the ocean. And I don’t know if being out there had anything to do with Larry’s recovery, but I knew that he needed something to keep him going instead of just watching him sit day after day on a couch watching television,” she said.
“We became full-time cruisers, and there are a lot of people out there like us, shocking enough. We thought we were the only crazy ones.”
She describes the adventure as living the hippy life, kicked back and relaxed, where you sleep in your swimsuit, wake up to the sound of the ocean, brush your teeth, put your cap on and wander around with bare feet.
“It was so beautiful out there and the people are so happy,” she said. “They have nothing but a fishing pole and a beer and they are just so happy.”
After four years on the ocean and hopping from island to island, the couple decided to return to Utah.
“Coming back I actually had culture shock. Everyone was driving like crazy and nobody had time to talk. It was that gotta run, gotta go mentality,” she said.
Since being back, Tina has decided to venture back into the Italian ice business once again. She has opened Norton’s Italian Ice and is now selling it inside Popcorn Express in Harrisville.
She uses the original Zeppes recipe and flavors and has also added a couple new ones, including Harrisville Hurricane.
Her menu includes the gelata, which is a scoop of custard, a layer of Italian Ice and another layer of the custard. She will also be adding sugar-free options to her menu.
Tina is very excited to work and train with new employees. She has also thought about helping others to open their own Italian Ice businesses.
Last year she received her certification in teaching English as a second language.
“If I can't seem to adjust to the cold Utah weather, I'll buy another boat and head for a third world country and teach ... and I can always pick mangoes and sell Italian Ice,” she said.
Life on the ocean taught Tina that life is short and that it’s important to do something you love.
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