hile Gnome Cones’ Denton location was under construction, Bret Hawkins (’16) would pass by it on his morning runs and watch as it slowly became a reality. He still runs by the store — now open and featuring a giant gnome out front, a Disneyland-esque interior and all-natural snow cones — and sees families outside enjoying their sweet treats. To Hawkins, who three years ago opened Gnome Cones as a stand in Argyle before launching the full-fledged storefront on the downtown Denton Square this spring, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings.
“I’m really grateful that we’ve made it this far,” Hawkins says. “It's more than I ever imagined."
Hawkins graduated from UNT with a B.F.A. in communication design, with an emphasis in graphic design. As a part-time student, he worked full time for his uncle, comedian Tim Hawkins, designing his website and merchandise.
“UNT helped me with discipline in my design work,” Hawkins says. “I was already working in the field but I learned everything on my own so I wasn’t super disciplined. I didn’t present my work well and had a lot of bad technical habits. Now that I’ve been out of school, I know how to better discuss and deliver solid design work for myself and the small businesses I do freelance work for.”
After graduation, Hawkins did design work for various companies around Denton such as West Oak and Norman Roscoe, and he even started his own apparel company, “Keep Exploring,” with Gnome Cones co-owner Alex Sparks.
Sparks originally came up with the concept of Gnome Cones, which sprouted from some on-campus shenanigans — Sparks and his friends would hide gnome posters around the university grounds under the pseudonym “Agnomynous”, a pun playing on the similarly named infamous hacker group. From that, the business idea of gnome-shaped ice cream and snow cones bloomed. Hawkins later joined in the brainstorming sessions and designed the marketing and branding for Gnome Cones as part of a senior class project at UNT.
“Once I made the branding, we realized we were on to something fun,” Hawkins says. “We pitched our designs and one-page business plan to an investor, John ‘Sparky’ Pearson (’95 M.B.A.), and he loved the idea and gave us the money to start the business.”
The Gnome Cones stand was originally supposed to be in Denton, but because of some last-minute complications, the stand was erected in Argyle in May 2017. A couple of years and 50,000 snow cones later, the Denton storefront was open for business.
“I’m glad it happened this way, because I think if we had opened the tiny stand in Denton, it would have gotten run over. Argyle is a smaller town, so the demand is a bit smaller,” Hawkins says. “We were able to learn the ropes, get our feet under us, and then build a bigger space in Denton.”
Gnome Cones is a quirky concept — but the gnome-shaped cup is not the only feature that has been turning heads.
“Gnome Cones uses only all-natural ingredients and that’s a big thing in Denton. The natural thing was initially a secondary aspect of the brand, but now that it’s open, we’ve realized that it is really valuable to a lot of people,” Hawkins says. “Neither Alex nor I are trained in the culinary industry. I knew we’d be able to make a cool-looking cup, but the fact that we’re able to make a great-tasting, all-natural product is the real miracle.”
At first, Hawkins didn’t realize how much effort went into the restaurant business. For the first three months, he worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Now, the work seems to have paid off.
“Anyone in school or at this stage in life, don’t be afraid to just try stuff,” Hawkins says. “If you have an idea that keeps tugging at you, talk to people about it -- get feedback, do research, see if it’s being done yet, or if it can be done better. Don’t be afraid to fail because, worst-case scenario, you try something, you fail, and you go back to the safe route. I can always go get a job designing posters at FedEx. There’s no shame in doing that. But if you have a cool idea, go for it.”
- Gnome Cones is now offering hot cocoa and wassail for the winter months -- in fact, their gnome-made wassail recipe was just crowned King of Wassail Weekend by the Denton Main Street Association.
- In addition to snow cones -- ranging in flavors from “Sweaty Yeti” (Coconut/Vanilla) to “Goblinberry” (Blackberry/Cranberry/Raspberry) -- Gnome Cones also sells homemade, all-natural ice cream, cookies and popsicles.
- Hawkins’ favorite Gnome Cones treat is vanilla soft-serve with iced coffee syrup drizzled on top.