It's Time For Ice Cream By Nancy K. Crevier

Published: April 27, 2012 at 12:00 am


It’s Time For Ice Cream

By Nancy K. Crevier

Partners Mike Coppola and Jason Rabatin opened Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop at 51 Church Hill Road for the season March 23, and are looking forward to their third year as owners of the Newtown institution that has seen generations of happy families, scouts, and sports teams line up for a taste of the made-on-premises ice cream.

Original owners Charlie and Wendy White started The Ice Cream Shop in 1969 and, “All we are doing is polishing a good product,” said Mr Coppola. The Whites sold The Ice Cream Shop in 2001, and Mr Coppola and Mr Rabatin bought the shop from a subsequent owner.

“A lot of people still don’t know that we make the ice cream on site,” said Mr Coppola, despite the declaration that comes out of customer’s mouths more often than not when they taste the creamy dessert: “Holy Cow!”

It is that exclamation, along with the shop’s proximity to five houses of worship (Newtown Congregational Church, Newtown Meeting House, Trinity Episcopal, St Rose of Lima, and Newtown United Methodist) that led the newest owners to add those words to the business’s name in 2010. Emphasizing the name this year is Sprinkles the cow, a life-sized Holstein statue resting peacefully at the roadside.

The statue was inspired by Hollandia Nursery’s owner Eugene Reelick, whose family owns a Vermont farm populated by mock bovines. “Hollandia did all of the flowers for us,” Mr Coppola said, and Mr Reelick suggested that the perfect addition to the scenery would be their very own no-maintenance cow.

The statue is already a popular photo opportunity before and after an ice cream treat, said Mr Coppola.

It is the 19 flavors of hard ice cream with five rotating special flavors, the 50 flavors of soft serve, and the 24 flavors of frozen yogurt that draw the customers, along with the friendly service, Mr Rabatin said. With mix-ins and combinations, the frozen yogurt flavors actually add up to 50, he said.

“And you don’t have to do it yourself and pay extra,” Mr Coppola added. “We do it for you,” he said.

 Both men are hands-on, mixing up the batches of ice cream, cleaning the machinery, and tending to the business and customers from early morning to late night, seven days of the week. It is Mr Rabatin, though, who is primarily the craftsman of the new ice cream flavors, such as the “FB Special” designed just for Monsignor “Father Bob” Robert Weiss of St Rose Church.

As well as being a regular customer, it was Monsignor Weiss who encouraged the two men to buy The Ice Cream Shop when it went up for sale, said Mr Coppola, a parishioner at St Rose. Mr Rabatin, an illustration major, was then working for Starbucks. The two men had become friends through their association there, and had tossed around ideas of going into business together at times.

Mr Coppola is the owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Danbury, and coincidentally, had sat in a coffee shop adjacent to The Ice Cream Shop years ago and daydreamed about whether owning an ice cream shop was better than the pizza business, he said.

Once Monsignor Weiss put the bug in their ears, they knew that owning the Ice Cream Shop was the route they would take. Mr Rabatin was already familiar with the product, having grown up in Woodbury and having devoured many a cone at the Dairy Delite Ice Cream Shop, the ice cream stand originated by Charlie White’s father in that town.

Making ice cream appeals to Mr Rabatin’s creative nature. “I’ve always liked to cook, and I love science,” Mr Rabatin said. “This is a little of all of that. I feel like it’s artisan handmade ice cream,” he said.

Both of the men are proud of the product they turn out at Holy Cow. After buying the business, Mr Coppola said he traveled across the country trying other ice creams and even took classes at Penn State on making ice cream. “None of the ice cream,” he said, “even came close to what I found at The Ice Cream Shop.”

The deciding factor in leaping into the ice cream business, though, Mr Coppola said, is that selling ice cream “Puts smiles on faces.”

“It’s a very positive business,” Mr Rabatin agreed.

“Come in and try it to find out what [the FB Special] is,” urged Mr Rabatin. He is also responsible for the introduction of the “Old Man Rabatin’s Newtown Berry” flavor, a toffee nut-flavored strawberry ice cream. The coffee ice cream is Holy Cow’s special recipe, as well, drawing customers from far and wide, including one couple who drives down from West Hartford every other week just for the coffee ice cream, Mr Coppola said.

A choice of more than 20 toppings turns any ice cream selection into a customized treat. Most popular among the mix-ins are cookie dough bites and rainbow jimmies. People go for the cherry dip on cones and seasonal fresh fruits are always popular, Mr Rabatin said.

Longtime customers remember the “zebra cone,” or Flavor Burst, as it is actually named. Vanilla soft serve ice cream is swirled with a rainbow of color and flavor, which Mr Rabatin is happy to call “a cornucopia of deliciousness.”

Loyal customers from the past 40 years still like to pick out their photos from the framed collages that decorate the wall, as they patiently wait in line. “I’m 45 years old now, but I’m a little kid in one of the pictures,” laughed Mr Coppola, who grew up in Danbury and Southbury. People continue to contribute their favorite “At the Ice Cream Shop” photos, said the men, but new photos are displayed on a digital monitor.

Customers have other ways to display their loyalty to Holy Cow, besides indulging in the icy delights — which include not just cups and cones, but shakes, malts, and sundaes of all kinds. They can buy a Holy Cow T-shirt, or they can become a fan of Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop on Facebook. Special offers and promotions are posted regularly on Facebook, said Mr Rabatin. “Post your best photo over the years of the Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop on Facebook, and we’ll choose one to add to the monitor,” he added.

One or the other of the partners is always at the shop, working alongside the staff of 12, seven days of the week. “It’s getting busier every day now,” said Mr Coppola, just three weeks into the season. “People are happy to see us open.”

The large gravel-covered lot off of Church Hill Road provides plenty of space to park, and bright red and blue umbrellas over freshly painted picnic tables out front of the shop contribute to the welcoming atmosphere at Holy Cow. Free ice-cold water is available from a large dispenser near one side entrance, or customers can purchase a soda or bottled water from the cooler.

“This shop has been here over four decades,” Mr Coppola said, “so the Ice Cream Shop people are like a big family. It’s a good product that we just keep adding to,” he said. “We want to keep the dream alive.”

Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop, 51 Church Hill Road (look for Sprinkles the cow), is open 11 am to 10 pm, Monday through Saturday, and 11 am to 9:30 pm on Sunday, seasonally.

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