Yarmouth ice cream shops offer sweet escape

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

In a summer marked by face masks and social distancing, local ice cream shop owners remind us that ice cream is still ice cream – a quintessential summertime treat that can melt your troubles away.

The 2020 season began in May for most Yarmouth shops with reduced hours, emergency workflow changes and fears about the spread of COVID-19. Business owners say they have adapted to the hardships and scooping is now steady. Shops use recommended health protocols, including some take-out windows and outdoor dining to protect customers and employees. And patrons have been mostly cooperative as they venture out for a break from work or a sweet reward after a long day under the sun.

Cape Cod Creamery’s treats

Cape Cod Creamery owner Alan Davis operates shops in Yarmouth, Dennis and Hyannis, and he said business has been different at each one. The recently opened Dennis location, 716 Main St., (Route 6A) has seen steady traffic this year – mostly from the year-round residents and those with summer homes, he said. Business has also been brisk at the Hyannis shop in the Christmas Tree Shop Plaza on Iyannough Road (Route 132). That shop features a lunch menu and is normally open year-round, he said, but like many restaurants it was closed in March. He re-opened in mid-May and business is now steady but still tracking behind previous years. Cape Cod Creamery’s main location at 1199 Route 28 in South Yarmouth is typically its busiest, Davis said. But this year it has felt the biggest impact from COVID-19, as it relies on customers from the hotels in South Yarmouth, which were slow in getting started this summer.

While there are no takeout windows, Cape Cod Creamery stores have separate entrance and exit doors, so customers don’t pass each other going in and out, Davis explained. The company also made changes to the interior layouts to protect both customers and employees. And all employees wear masks and gloves, he said.

“We just thought, if we outfit the store correctly, we can have people come in and everybody would be safe,” he said. “I think people got to the point where they wanted to get out, and coming in the store knowing that we had set it up safely, they were happy with that.”

Cape Cod Creamery makes its ice cream for all three shops at the Yarmouth location, and Davis said employees have been working on two shifts, seven days a week and 14 hours a day churning out gallons of Sandy Neck Snickers, Cummaquid Coconut, Hyannis Heath Bar, Chatham Chocolate and roughly two-dozen other enticing flavors. While America’s favorite ice cream remains old-fashioned vanilla, Davis says the Cape Cod Creamery’s best seller is Orleans Oreo, with Allen Harbor Almond Joy another top pick.

The key to making any great ice cream flavor is to start with good vanilla, which is the basis for everything, Davis said. Cape Cod Creamery uses Madagascar vanilla, considered the best in the world, along with Colombian coffee and gelato flavorings from Italy, he said. Find a full list of flavors at CapeCodCreamery.com.

The Hyannis and Yarmouth locations also sell “real ice cream” soft-serve, and all locations have gelato and sherbet choices. You can even find Cape Cod Creamery ice cream at local supermarkets, but Davis said he recently cut back on sales to off-Cape grocery stores after opening the Dennis shop.

Beyond the highly rated ice cream, Cape Cod Creamery’s greatest assets are the 40-plus young employees, trained to treat each customer with courtesy and care, Davis said. Customer service is always important, but even more so with COVID-19, he explained.

“If people are coming out and they’re coming to our shop, we need to bend over backwards to say thank you to them,” he said. “They’re making the effort to come to our place. So as good as our service was before, we need to bring it up, even a notch further, so that these people really understand how thankful we are for supporting us.”

Gelato at the window

At Caffè Gelato Bertini, co-owner Cindy J. Duby said business has also been steady after a slow start. The shop opened at the end of May – a few weeks later than normal, and she and her husband Tom plan to remain open until the end of October.

The small indoor area at Caffè Gelato Bertini has remained closed to customers this summer, and all commerce is handled through the new take-out window. Fortunately, the business already had a large window, which was easily converted for take-out, she said.

While scooping has been steady, it’s not as robust as in previous seasons – a trend she attributes to fewer guests at beachside hotels. Caffe Gelato Bertini is located along South Street – the main drag to South Shore Drive, Bass River Beach and some 1,500 hotel rooms. If occupancy is down in the area’s hotels, she explained, “we’re all bound to feel it.”

While Caffé Gelato Bertini has cut back its hours of operation this season, the owners still make more than 100 different gelato flavors, Duby said. The website only lists 24, but when one flavor sells out, it’s often replaced by a new one, she explained. Customer favorites include Stracciatella (a cream-flavored gelato drizzled with dark Italian chocolate) and Zabaglione (a custard-gelato with the taste of Marsala, pine nuts and orange). Her own favorite is lemon, with a little tartness to complement the sweetness.

Duby says most customers have been respectful of requests to wear masks and practice social distancing, and the cafe now has a sign advising customers: “No mask, no service.”

All is chill at Penguin’s Ice Cream Igloo

Patricia Kent-Friedman, owner of Penguin’s Ice Cream Igloo, said she was understandably nervous before opening for business this spring, finding it hard to imagine how things “would play out.” But the Igloo started scooping on May 8, with strict adherence to safety protocols – social distancing, constant sanitizing and setting up the shop’s outside area for safe business.

Penguins, located at 519 Route 28 in West Yarmouth, operates one window for money and credit cards and another window to send out orders, helping to keep a safe and orderly flow for customers.

“It has worked out so beautifully and effectively,” Kent-Friedman said in an email, noting that the sweltering temperatures this summer have spurred customers to cool off with old-fashioned ice cream. The result: business has been “pretty much the same or better” than previous seasons.

Penguins sells more than 60 flavors of hard ice cream from Bliss Dairy in Attleboro, along with soft-serve, sorbets, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and more. Vanilla is still the No. 1 flavor, she says, but Grape Nut, Oreo and Extreme Chocolate are gaining ground. And most everyone loves their ice cream served in a waffle cone.

Customers have been wonderful in accepting the safety protocols – wearing masks, keeping their distance and being patient. And she said they are extremely grateful that “we are able to provide them with some form of happiness, which ice cream does.”

Penguins will also deliver ice cream to vehicles when customers call in advance. “We do whatever we can do,” she said. “I am so blessed that I can provide a lot of smiles … and offer something that people feel safe doing.”

Penguins Ice Cream Igloo does not have a website, but you can find information on the shop’s Facebook page, @penguinsicecreamigloo.

Last but not least…. the Lil’ Caboose

Mary’s Lil’ Caboose Ice Cream and Hot Dogs on Route 28 in South Yarmouth opened on Mother’s Day weekend this year and has seen steady business throughout the summer, according to owner Mary DeSimone.

All food items are served through the take-out window, and tables are spaced at least 8 feet apart, she said. Cleanliness has always been a priority, but now it’s more like an obsession, as she or a staffer cleans and sanitizes all the counters, benches, picnic tables and other surfaces every hour, she said.

The Lil’ Caboose serves soft and hard ice cream, along with sherbet, sorbet, frozen yogurt, shakes, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and soft pretzels. All told the Caboose has more than 50 ice cream flavors, including fat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and vegan choices. Roughly 90 percent of the ice cream is purchased from Gifford’s of Maine. DeSimone explained that she likes to keep her customers satisfied, and there are a few flavors that Gifford’s doesn’t carry. So she gets her Grape Nut ice cream from Bliss and her Rum Raisin from Creative Creamery.

So what are the top choices at Mary’s Lil’ Caboose? Peanut Butter Caramel Cookie Dough and Sea Salt Caramel, along with the standard coffee, chocolate and vanilla, which is often used in the Caboose’s specialty sundaes. This summer, Lil’ Caboose has been selling three times as many sundaes as cones, DeSimone said.

Find a full list of flavors, along with sundae toppings and business hours at lilcaboose.com.

Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.