It’s become a sort of secular holiday in these parts. On March 1, The Ice Creamsmith re-opens for business. And that means it’s spring again in Dorchester— the snowbanks, the groundhog and the Farmer’s Almanac be damned.
For 37 years now, neighborhood folks and their neighbors across the Neponset have synchronized their hot fudge fantasies and chocolate chip cravings to the sounds of David and Robyn Mabel’s blenders on this southernmost corner of Dot Ave.
Little has changed about The Ice Creamsmith since 1976— and that’s by design. The intimate 15 seat shop was always intended to look like an old-fashioned parlor. That’s how Dave Mabel designed and built it back in the days before the old Baker Chocolate buildings had been repurposed for apartments and condos. The shop still has the same number of seats, wooden wainscoting and the handmade menu board behind its counter. Cartoons and clippings from fading newspapers hang on the wall marking milestones in the Mabels venture. The property owners— the Delaney family, who run the insurance company next door— continue to be “the best landlords that any person could ever have,” according to Robyn.
But, this season, change has come to The Ice Creamsmith. Dave and Robyn have passed ownership of the business along to their 32 year-old daughter, Sarah and her 33 year-old husband Chris Skillin. The two met while working at the ice cream shop as teenagers. Now, they have a two year-old daughter of their own. After toiling through a series of jobs, Sarah says they’ve come to see the mom-and-pop business as a sanctuary.
“We started to think about what a great arrangement it was for us as kids growing up. [My mom and dad] were always close by and accessible. It was just a nice way to grow up and plus it meant having ice cream,” explains Sarah.
Chris Skillin, who started working as an ice cream maker for the Mabels at age 16, is a carpenter who has worked in construction for most of his adult career. That’s a trade that will come in handy as the shop needs repairs in the years to come.
“We don’t have plans to make huge changes,” says Sarah. “We have been doing a lot of work [since the store closed for the season last Thanksgiving], but hopefully people who are customers wouldn’t really notice. We’ve been streamlining processes. But we’re not modernizing. We’re going to keep everything the same as best as we can. My dad built that place himself. I’m lucky to be married to a carpenter who can repair and rebuild, hopefully. But, if it’s not broke, why fix it?”
Dave and Robyn Mabel say that his daughter and son-in-law are ready for the responsibility. And, they too are ready for a change of pace.
“The aches and pains were starting to pile up. We probably would have sold it on the open market,” if Sarah and Chris did not show an interest in buying the business two years ago, Dave Mabel, 68, explains. “It’s a difficult business.”
Robyn, 66, says that some the physical tasks that didn’t faze them as younger adults have become a grind: carrying all the deliveries from the street level to basement creamery where the good stuff is produced. “We had to carry the mix down three times a week: 45 pound cases and lifting it into refrigerator.”
“And the scooping, too,” adds Dave. “That can take its toll.”
“A lot of people come and go with businesses and they’re not hands on enough or don’t have common sense you need,” Mabel said. “We weren’t business educated but we had enough smarts and common sense- and we were always there. I think that they will learn by example as much as anything we told them to carry on the same traditions. And we have some great employees that they’ll rely on to keep things under control.”
In fact, Dave and Robyn Mabel plan to stay on as employees in the upcoming season. They’ll work three afternoons a week behind the counter. The other four days during the week they’ll be watching Sarah and Chris’ 2 year-old daughter Lila.
“[Chris and I] know a lot but there’s a lot that we don’t know,” says Sarah. “They have a lot of things in their heads we’re very lucky that they’ll handy and accessible, for sure.”
One thing that the new owners will likely keep alive is the Ice Creamsmith’s seasonal, three month break.
“We don’t have the ability or capacity to become a sandwich shoppe or something else there,” says Dave Mabel. “Living just on the ice cream, it’s just too slow in the winter.”
His daughter agrees.
“As the years go on, we might change our minds. I think people do eat ice cream in the winter, but they eat it in the comfort of their warm living rooms. They don’t stroll around the village with a cone, though. And, it’s a necessary break and it’s a much shorter break than people might think. My parents are down there almost every day in February getting things ready.”
The Ice Creamsmith is located at 2295 Dorchester Ave. and will be open from noon to 10 p.m. daily beginning on March 1.