THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN
Local ice cream stands bring back memories of a bygone time.
By JENNINE ZELEZNIK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
They can be found on back country highways and in small towns -- holdouts from an era of poodle skirts and car fins, drive-in movies and thick, creamy milkshakes.
The dairy drive-in -- the independent ice cream stands where people go on a hot night for a cool cone. Where baseball teams flock in the early summer to celebrate a win. And where vacationers pull over for a bit of a rest and a hot fudge sundae.
Everyone knows where a dairy drive-in is, or used to be. Their parents may have gone there. Or even their grandparents.
It's a tradition.
In Pennsylvania: Nestled among the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, Forbush Drive-In in Shenango Township has been in business for more than 50 years. Started by Chauncey Forbush in 1950, the business is now run by his great-nephew, J.D. Krepps.
Decked out in a red polo shirt, the 29-year-old pointed to the company's slogan painted on the white boards beside the front window: "In a world of old-fashioned, we're antiques!"
"It's true," Krepps said, shrugging his shoulders. "We've been using the same four antique stainless steel machines for 50 years. Any nuts or candy are hand-stirred into the ice cream.
"The calluses on my hands show that story."
These small shops abound with stories. Leaning on her well-polished countertop, Shirley Madden related a local legend about her shop in East Palestine.
The Dairy Mill, she said, got its name from a wooden windmill that used to perch on its roof.
"One night, there was a huge storm," Madden said, eyes gleaming behind thick glasses. "It knocked the windmill right off -- the owners thought they were going to lose the roof."
When she bought the store years later, she removed the windmill and replaced it with a solid roof.
"Now, it exists only in memory," Madden said with a smile.
Changes in ownership: Many of the ice cream parlors have changed ownership through the years. The Shiflet family has run Shiflet's Delites for 16 years, though the business itself has been in Johnston for almost 50 years.
"We're the third owners," Kathy Shiflet said, nodding at her husband and son. "But there has not been a lot of change. The American dream of owning a small business is --"
"A lot of sacrifice," her husband, Frank, interrupted.
Kathy laughed, but continued, "-- has come true for us."
The Shiflets live right next door to their drive-in.
"My husband and I are here all the time," Kathy said, watching as her husband paced the kitchen, readying for the lunch rush. "It has to be hands-on."
Her son, Frankie, added, "I've never had a summer vacation, and I'm 21. We take vacations in the winter."
He flipped the meat on the grill in front of him, then shook oil from a basket of french fries.
"It's a lot of hard work," Frank said.
Hard work is a common theme in many of the shop owners' tales.
"I got into this business by accident," said Jacqueline Leise, owner of Dutch Isle Ice Cream in New Wilmington, Pa. "It's hard -- but I love it."
A horse and buggy clattered by on the road in front of her shop as Leise filled a waffle cone for a customer. She makes all the store's ice cream fresh every day.
Her secret: "The secret to good ice cream is to keep it soft," she said, handing over the chocolate cone. "Then you get more flavor."
She leaned an arm on the counter.
"I think we're in a business that gets the nicest clientele in the whole world," she said, looking around her small shop. "If you like ice cream, you've gotta be a happy person."
Chris Rose also finds her customers enjoyable. The owner of Chris's Dairy Cream in Mineral Ridge, Rose thinks of her job as fun.
"You get to give people a treat," she said, smiling through the order window. "They enjoy stopping. We have loyal customers."
The loyalty of her customers means less worry about competition from chains like Dairy Queen or Bruster's.
"There's enough to go around," Rose said. "We have friendly service and quality products. We can hold our own."
Also not worried: The owners of the Dairi Oasis in Kinsman don't worry much about competition, either.
"We're really the only ones out here," Ken Saltzmann said. A purple ball cap with the company's logo perched on his head. "It's a small town."
He and his wife, Carolyn, find that most customers attracted to their purple and teal drive-in are travelers.
"We get a lot of business from Pymatuning [State Park]," Carolyn said, brushing the front of her apron. "Most is transit business -- people going by."
In contrast, John Arsuffi, owner of the Dairy King in Salem, finds that most of his business is local.
"Retirement communities and nursing homes surround this area," he said, wiping his counter in preparation for the lunch crowd. "A lot of residents like the sugar-free, soft-serve frozen yogurt."
Harriet E. Rupert said she gets a fair mix of travelers and locals at her store in New Springfield. She opened Betty Jo's Ice Cream Shop as a challenge at age 57. Twelve years later, business is still going strong.
"It's something my husband and I always wanted to do," she said. A warm sun shone down on the picnic table beside her shop. "Oh, look at that!" she laughed as a cool breeze tossed leaves across the table, an early herald of fall's approach.
Soon, the drive-ins will close for the winter, and the ice cream season will end. Every store will display the sign: Closed Until Spring.
Then they'll open again -- for the Little Leaguers. For the travelers. For anybody longing for a cone, complete with sprinkles.