The name came first: Soleil. A word that holds the sun inside and naturally conjures ice cream to cool the summer’s heat. With a dash of France, a nod to that southern light that beckons artists and soaks the countryside in a golden glow. We painted the tiny former office in Provençal yellow, installed a […]
By Annie Graves
Jun 28 2022
The name came first: Soleil. A word that holds the sun inside and naturally conjures ice cream to cool the summer’s heat. With a dash of France, a nod to that southern light that beckons artists and soaks the countryside in a golden glow.
We painted the tiny former office in Provençal yellow, installed a vintage soda fountain counter, and sampled local New Hampshire ice cream until we could sample no more. And finally, in spring of 2000, when all hope was melting, we tasted the intense mouthfeel of Annabelle’s, in Portsmouth. A flavor for every mood. Feeling dark and stormy? Try Triple Chocolate. A little giddy? Raspberry Chocolate Chip. Exploring the full power of your 5-year-old self? Big shout-out for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Monster.
Soleil was a hit, with little windows that opened onto an alley, jaunty outdoor tables, and red umbrellas. There were few rules, but they were strictly observed. 1. Kids came first. 2. Then dogs. 3. Adults with good behavior were welcome too, and of course they were the only ones with wallets.
We ordered mountains of sugar and cake cones, stocked the soda fountain bins with hot fudge and caramel toppings, tracked down malted powder for a friend who craved malteds. “Are your sugar cones kosher?” one mother wanted to know. They were. As were the sprinkles, both chocolate and rainbow, and, of course, the ice cream.
On summer days the alley was full of kids and dogs. One little dachshund went berserk anytime she came near Soleil. Dogs learned to drag their people into the alleyway, knowing that a tablespoon of vanilla was guaranteed. Who knows how many of the ensuing cones were unintentional?
If you think that it might be fun to open your own ice cream shop one day, I have some advice.
There are things no one can tell you about the early weeks and months to come. The learning curve shoots up like a rocket, but in days, you’ve mastered the basics. The rest is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience, with laughs tucked in—most often, for me at Soleil, because of the kids. They couldn’t believe they had their own ice cream shop. Or that they could sample flavors endlessly. Sometimes they even got to step behind the counter and scoop. When they did, they practically burst.
If you happen to find three smart young women—say, two Mollys and a Hannah—to work part-time, you may learn that there will be occasional hijinks. On slow days, taste-test challenges, where multiple flavors are assembled on a spoon, to be blindly identified. Spots of whipped cream found on a wall, after hilarity ensues on a particularly long, rainy day. These are to be expected.
And about the mechanics—your arms will ache with a deep and abiding constancy. You may sense the groundswell of burgeoning carpel tunnel. You will learn that some flavors are easier to scoop than others. Chocolate, it turns out, is like drilling into concrete. Scooping Triple Chocolate should be a Tough Mudder event. On holidays, in the melting heat, with a line out the door and down the alley, and up to your elbows in ice cream, you might even think that you’ll never sample another flavor, but you will be wrong. Because even if you never really cared for ice cream before, you do now. A lot.
If you’re lucky enough to run an ice cream shop in a small town, you are a maker of memories. Kids come to the takeout window in their pajamas on soft summer nights. Their eyes grow wide when they taste something good. They are devastated when a cone drops. Resurrected when they receive a new one. Who knows what they’ll remember, but something lodges in the heart. Ice cream will always evoke joyful faces, sticky hands, and grateful parents. And somewhere a little dachshund who dreams of vanilla in a cup.