Nelson’s Ice Cream in St. Paul

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Four years ago, my husband spent the summer working in Stillwater, where he became acquainted with Nelson’s Ice Cream. A local presence since the 1920s, when it first opened as a grocery store, Nelson’s is notorious for its mammoth ice cream cones. The servings are so large, in fact, that many people can’t finish — including my husband, who has been known to polish off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s himself with no ill effects. I refused to believe that he, and others, would willingly throw away ice cream. Why would anyone do that?

Then Nelson’s Ice Cream opened a second location in St. Paul in May, and a recent visit proved that even the smallest size — “child,” if you will — can cause the biggest ice cream fan to cry uncle. For $3.50 ($1 extra for waffle cone), this leaning tower of lactose must be conquered with an extremely empty stomach and a spoon that travels quickly from cup to mouth — and preferably, a friend or two. G-d help you if you venture beyond the child size to a single ($4.50), double ($4.75), or triple ($5.50).

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

It’s not that you’ll want to stop with all the flavor choices — and you can pick more than one, even for the child size. It’s hard to resist options like java chunk, with its smooth coffee base and thick chocolate chunks, and monster cookie, with a peanut butter ribbon swirling around M&Ms and chocolate chips. Even “boring” flavors like chocolate, chocolate chip, or cookies and cream are valid choices due to the freshness and quality of the ice cream. That case has to turn over fast with the size of the cones the eager young scoopers are dishing up.

But with cones so large, you may be full by the time you make it through the flavor on the top to get to your second or subsequent scoops. Nelson’s does keep a stack of extra cups near the napkin dispenser, so you can divide your cone and get to the bottom flavors more easily. You’ll probably make a considerable mess doing it, but by this time you’re sticky and sugary anyway, and the tables look as if they are used to such spills. Ordering your ice cream as a shake or malt ($4) may be a neater way to slurp down your treat. Don’t worry, you’ll still get the same oversize portion.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

I’ve always been a “more is more” gal, and if you told me before that I’d ever throw away ice cream, I would eat my proverbial hat (and the ice cream). But after only making it halfway through my Nelson’s cone, I have to think that dishing up more reasonably sized portions — they can still be big, but more XL than XXXL — might be a wiser move, because ice cream gone to waste benefits no one. Of course, you could always share, assuming your group can agree on flavors; that’ll be my strategy at Nelson’s Ice Cream from now on. After all, spending $3.50 for ice cream for four is a pretty cheap — and guaranteed delicious — date.

Nelson’s Ice Cream
Ice cream shop in St. Paul

454 Snelling Ave S
St. Paul, MN 55105
OWNERS: Bill Bergstrom and Dave Najarian
Mon-Sat 11am-1opm
Sun 12-10pm

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table


  1. gromit

    So do they buy Cedar Crest Ice Cream? Or are the similarities in a few of the flavor names between the companies coincidental?

  2. Isabelle

    Fifteen years ago they bought Kemps ice cream. I used to work for a distributor and would call Nelson’s for their order. HUGE amounts of 5 gallon tubs.

    Of course, it could be different now.

  3. Becky

    Comment to author: The Nelson’s St. Paul location is owned by Daved Najarian, Dave Najarian’s son.

    Both locations carry Cedar Crest and Minnesota-made Kemps.

Comments are closed.