Vergennes family opens a new ice cream shop
“I want the carnival atmosphere at an ice cream stand, with kids, the workers in the shop bustling. I like that energy.”
— Rodney Olsen
VERGENNES — During his childhood, Vergennes resident Rodney Olsen said ice cream was a regular on the family menu.
“We’d always sit around, and some of our great memories are getting a big bowl of ice cream and watching a hockey game together,” said Olsen, a 54-year-old retired special educator and owner of a hardwood flooring company.
Olsen and wife Meghan, a special educator at Vergennes Union High School, are now also the owners of one of the newest ventures in their hometown, one that harkens back to Rodney’s youth — Olsen’s Ice Cream, next to Champlain Farms at the intersection of Main Street and Monkton Road.
“It’s been my husband’s dream to own an ice cream shop for many years,” said Meghan, 45.
Rodney explained the attraction.
“As a kid I think we all have our favorite ice cream place. You can ask somebody, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, as a kid I went to this place. This is always what I got.’ That was the same with us,” he said. “When you need a treat, that’s what you do, you go out for an ice cream … I want the carnival atmosphere at an ice cream stand, with kids, the workers in the shop bustling. I like that energy.”
Rodney said he thought about it during his 24 years at Hannaford Career Center teaching students in the Diversified Occupations Program.
“One of my jokes was I served the people for 24 years as a teacher, and now I want to serve them some ice cream,” he said.
Meghan said since opening on May 2 Olsen’s Ice Cream has in fact served a fair amount of 16 Gifford’s of Maine flavors; vanilla, chocolate and swirled creemees; and a dozen toppings, including maple syrup sourced in Addison and chocolate bark made nearby at Daily Chocolate. Those can be mixed with ice cream into flurry-like concoctions the Olsens call “Larinis.”
She said opening weekend was strong, and on a cloudy Thursday last week with midafternoon temperatures hovering around 60 a steady stream of visitors came to the cashier’s window, and then moved six feet to the left to pick up their treats.
“The community has seemed happy we’re open,” Meghan said.
For now Olsen’s will be open mid-afternoon through the evening Tuesdays through Saturdays, with Mondays and Tuesdays added when the school year ends. The shop will close when cold weather arrives.
“We’ll figure out our closing date as we get into the fall a little bit. Probably early October I’m sure we’ll be done,” Meghan.
The COVID-19 pandemic did cast uncertainty over the proceedings. The Olsens had also first looked at an empty building nearby across the street before deciding it would be wiser to lease the former Main Scoop space. Main Scoop had closed in 2018, but was already better set up for the purpose.
They reached a tentative deal with landlord Greg Lutton over the winter, but admitted moments of doubt. Enter their children, Ryley, 16, and Iain, 14. (They are now among a half-dozen or so employees.)
“I was saying to the family, we can’t do this,” Rodney said. “I would say that to the kids, and they said, ‘We got this. Don’t you worry about it.’”
Then came the coronavirus.
“And there’s an international pandemic going on that complicates things. So what could go wrong?” Rodney said.
They worried the shop would be frivolous, but said they decided a little “normalcy” might in fact be welcome and moved forward.
Then came the wait for permission to proceed, and it came in time for the warm opening weekend.
“Our fear was here we were in the middle of a pandemic, and how do you operate this? Being that we are a takeout window they allow our services, and we have precautions in place,” Rodney said.
Customers last week were observing those, as well as employees.
“We have footprints painted where people can walk. And every eight feet we have areas where people wait their turn. And we have only one window for ordering, and six feet away we have another window for takeout,” Rodney said.
“We have masks, and the cashiers have gloves, and we’re washing things every half-hour. There are guidelines. The kids have to take their temperatures before they come in.”
Another thing helped get things off the ground, the Olsens said: Main Scoop owners Kim and Jacob Trombley gave them advice, an awning, and even volunteer labor from Kim on opening day.
“They have been fantastic to us. Here we are. We really don’t know business. We’re teachers. We never worked in an ice cream shop,” Rodney said. “Luckily we had the former owners walking us through, helping us out, donating an awning for us. They’ve just been dynamite.”
Rodney will maintain his flooring business, but he will no doubt often be joining Meghan at Olsen’s Ice Cream
“I go into the shop, and it’s only been open for a week now, and it’s just that place where you feel good and comfortable,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.”
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