Ice Cream Stands Continue To Adjust To Pandemic Protocols
Both of Newtown’s ice cream stands have opened for the 2020 season, although it is not yet business as usual for either.
Three months after the COVID-19 pandemic really rolled into the region, both businesses have adjusted to keep their employees and their customers safe. The act of purchasing fresh ice cream may seem frivolous, but to many it represents a step back toward a world where it was easy to go out for something to eat without the need for face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other protective measures.
Ferris Acres Creamery (FAC) opened on April 7. That was the first day this year customers could place orders — but the Ferris family said at the time they would not consider the season officially open until employees can hand a just-filled ice cream cone, cup, milkshake, or sundae across the counter to an eager customer.
Until then, the Creamery has been filling orders for pre-packed pints and quarts. While initially it was only family members handing all of the ice cream making, container packing, and order filling in April, the behind-the-scenes crew has expanded slightly in recent weeks.
The Creamery has also increased the number of tables for pickups in its main parking lot from two to three. Customers have been placing and paying for orders online, and then driving to 144 Sugar Street to pick up their ice cream. As of this week, those placing online orders had a two-week wait to pick up their frozen treats.
Upon arrival, customers check in with an FAC employee, who directs them to one of the tables. As the customer moves their vehicle to their appointed table, the FAC employee — wearing a mask and gloves — runs from the parking lot to a large freezer that has been placed near the building’s front entrance.
After pulling the order out of the freezer, the employee runs back to the parking lot, puts the order on the appointed table, and then moves away so that the customer can retrieve their ice cream, with no one getting closer than six feet to each other.
Robbie Morrill and Nick Rocca were the runners one afternoon this week. Both have worked at the Creamery for a few years. This is Morrill’s fourth season, and Rocca’s seventh.
They explained on June 2 that the pick-up system had already been adapted some from its original presentation. In April, customers were assigned 10-minute blocks during which they were to pick up their ice cream from their appointed table.
“People were showing up late, though, or not at all, and we didn’t want their ice cream getting soft or ruined,” Morrill said Tuesday afternoon.
Now, by waiting until customers arrive before their orders are placed on tables, “there is definitely a lot more walking and running now,” he said. The system, he added, “is as smooth as it possibly could be right now.”
His colleague agreed.
“We’re killing it,” Rocca said with a big grin. “A lot of people have been very understanding about all of this.”
FAC manager Terry Ferris has mixed feelings about the ordering system.
“The pickups are working great,” she said June 2. “Everyone’s happy with the system we’re using. We’re just so happy to see our customers.”
She is also grateful, she said, for the local health department.
“They’ve been wonderful, helping us learn the new rules and the new normal,” she said.
Ferris called the two-week wait for some customers “tough,” however. She does not like making people wait that long.
Because of that, the farm will once again update its delivery system beginning this weekend.
On Friday, June 5, FAC will transition to express window pick-up, Ferris said. The westernmost window on the stand — already labeled for express pickup — will resume that operation. Two of the windows facing south on the stand will also become express windows.
“We’ll have three people working, one at each window, with their own freezers to pull from,” Ferris explained.
Orders will primarily be the pre-packed pints and quarts of ice cream FAC has been selling for the past six weeks. Ice cream cakes will also be available.
“No cups, no cones,” Ferris said. “We just aren’t able to do that yet,” she lamented.
Employees will continue to wear masks and gloves, she pointed out. As in past years, there will be one line for customers. This year, however, that line will be spaced out, with six feet between each customer. Customers will be called to an express window as one opens up.
“We’ll have someone in the traffic area to help keep things moving and answer questions,” she added.
According to Ferris, that procedure will be in place for a very short time. From June 5 to June 12, the express windows will be open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 6 to 9 pm each day.
Meanwhile, all of those orders that have been placed online still need to be filled and picked up.
“We’re doing this small transition for two weeks, because we have those all of those online orders to pick up on,” Ferris explained. “Our plan is Monday, June 15, for our opening.”
The Creamery will then be open from 1 to 8 pm, Monday through Saturday.
While FAC has not yet introduced any new flavors for the 2020 season, it has added a Design Your Own Sundae kit. Ferris said two more additions are coming as of June 15.
“We will be adding a Cannoli Sundae Kit and a Brownie Sundae Kit to take home,” she said.
Doors Open On Church Hill Road
Holy Cow Ice Cream opened two days after Connecticut launched Phase 1 of its COVID-19 reopening plan. Co-owners Mike Coppola and Jason Rabatin celebrated Memorial Day weekend by opening the doors to 51 Church Hill Road for the first time this year on Friday, May 22.
On the phone last week, Coppola said the opening weekend “went OK. People were kind, they were cooperative.”
In place of two front entrances and two side doors for exits, the ice cream stand currently hosts one entrance, from the western side of the building. Exiting is done through what used to be the entryways.
Newly painted lines mark six-foot spaces where customers are asked to stand. Signs ask people to send no more than two people per family to the window.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Coppola said. “We have one person on the register doing money, and the other people are filling the orders.”
As with the Creamery, the staffing at Holy Cow is “limited for now,” Coppola said.
For those who are working, they are “constantly washing hands, and wearing masks, and being very conscientious about how they’re handling everything,” he added.
As always, it is a balancing act for the business owner. Many customers are following the new protocols put in place. Not all are, however.
“We’re trying to be sensitive to those who need these protections,” Coppola said.
Holy Cow is also holding off on introducing new flavors. Rabatin, who reportedly enjoys coming up with the new concoctions, said this week that he has “been going through the playbook, doing the greatest hits right now. We’re serving things people like.”
New flavors “are all coming up soon,” Coppola said. “We have the basics out, though, including Father Bob Special. That’s always a big favorite.”
The hard-serve, toasted almond ice cream with pieces of Butterfinger candy and coconut mixed in is named after one of the ice cream shop’s biggest fans. Monsignor Robert Weiss — aka Father Bob — is pastor of St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, situated across the street from Holy Cow Ice Cream.
One of Weiss’s spring rituals is to take St Rose of Lima School students across the street for an ice cream. With schools closed by mid-March due to COVID-19 concerns, Coppola told The Newtown Bee in April that many thought this year’s field trip might not happen.
“Father Bob did not forget about those kids this year,” Coppola said Monday afternoon. “He ordered gift certificates for all of the kids at the school.”
On Monday afternoon, Coppola and Rabatin were looking back on the first two weekends of their season. Lines had been repainted on the ground, additional tape had been laid down on the floor of their building, and new signs had been hung to remind customers to wear masks and keep socially distanced from each other.
Picnic tables have not been set out yet, although Rabatin noted that some people have arrived with their own chairs to sit in while enjoying their ice cream rather than immediately leaving with it.
“There’s also been a little bit of tailgating going on,” he said. “It’s been really good. People are overall respectful of the rules and each other.”
The partners are both appreciative of what they see as “a proactive approach” by the local health department. Inspector Suzette LaBlanc, Coppola noted, “is very well informed, and stays on top of everything we all need to know.”
Holy Cow Ice Cream, at 51 Church Hill Road, is currently open daily from 2 to 8 pm. Visit holycowct.com or call 203-426-1359 for updates.
Ferris Acres Creamery, at 144 Sugar Street, will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, from 6 to 9 pm, June 5 through June 12. It will then be open Monday through Saturday from 1 to 8 pm, as of June 15. Visit ferrisacrescreamery.com or call 203-426-8803 for additional details.