MS. REBECCA SHEIR
When the weather gets as sticky and stifling as it has this week and your power's out for days at a time, what is one sure fire way to cool off in a jiffy? Well, how about a big bite of ice cream? On Route 40 in Ellicot City, Md, you can get that dose of sugary salvation at a place called Soft Stuff. The ice cream stand has been around since 1984, but as Tara Boyle tells us, the local institution will soon undergo some major changes.
MS. TARA BOYLE
Melanie Tresnak is only 18 years old, but she's already got some serious skills when it comes to soft ice cream.
MS. MELANIE TRESNAK
Well, after, like, many years, I can, like, master, like, three cones at once, like, holding them in your hand.
Three cones at once, simultaneously? How exactly does that work?
Oh, like holding two cones in one hand while doing the other one and alternating hands.
Wow. That's amazing.
It's a skill acquired, as she says, over many years of working at a soft-serve ice cream stand. Though, it's a skill that comes at a price.
MR. MICHAEL WEAL
It saves a little time, but I don't know how many accidents occur as a result of that, but some of them get real clever.
Michael Weal knows all the tricks of the soft-serve trade. His family opened Soft Stuff after his dad traveled to Rehoboth Beach, Del. back in the early '80s and had something of a revelation.
He said I was talking to this old guy who had this little hole in the wall soft ice cream stand. Started talking to him -- he said we ought to do something like that in our town because there's nothing like that.
And to reinforce the Look at us, we're in Rehoboth feel...
Make it look like places at the beach. That was the original idea.
So the Weals attached a carry-out ice cream stand to the Forest Motel, which the family had been running since the late '60s. They built a long wooden walkway to add to the boardwalk ambiance. But they decided to part company with their beach brethren in one significant way.
The difference is we wanted it to be better quality ice cream than what the beach sells.
And the key to that?
Milk fat or butterfat content. More milk fat equals creamier ice cream and it was an instant hit at Soft Stuff. Banana splits, chocolate-dipped cones, ice cream sandwiches known as Soft Stuffers. People swarmed to Soft Stuff to get their sweet tooth on. But what's interesting is that since the opening the routine has become about more than soft-serve.
All of a sudden it was Wow, we can sit at the picnic tables, we can sit on the grass, we can bring the kids, we can bring the dog and I think it became the intangible you're talking about -- a place for groups of young people or families to come and sit on the back of their truck or SUV or sit in the grass or at a table and spend a half an hour or so.
And you can still kind of do that at Soft Stuff. But most of the grassy spots here no longer exist. The Forest Motel, it's in-ground pool, the diner next door -- they're now all gone.
After being here since 1967 when we purchased the place, it's hard for me to even imagine that this would ever look like this.
Michael Weal is looking at a landscape of dirt and construction equipment where his family's motel once stood. He's got big plans for this site.
We're bringing into over 19,000 cubic yards of dirt to bring this up to level.
This fall after Soft Stuff closes for the season, a team of developers will break ground on a mixed use development here. It will include apartments, a chain restaurant, a spa where you can get massages and pedicures and a new Soft Stuff. It'll be a sit-down ice cream parlor with amenities the old place didn't have. Like bathrooms.
We want people to know that we're going to be the same place and it may be a little different atmosphere. It won't be necessarily sitting under the trees, but we're going to have enough open space I think people can sit there, or sit on the tables or walk around. So I think it's going to work. I don't think people will say I'm not going there anymore because I can't sit at a picnic table.
Speaking of those picnic tables. They were packed on a recent Saturday night as temperatures hovered in the mid-90s. Ron and Mary Tallent of Woodstock, Md. had scored one of the tables and were savoring kiddie-sized ice cream sundaes dripping with chocolate and butterscotch.
MR. RON TALLENT
Portions are always so large if you get a kiddie sundae, it's usually plenty.
Mary says their got jobs at Soft Stuff in the early '90s and the whole family has been coming here ever since.
MS. MARY TALLENT
It was just so delightful to come here on a Sunday afternoon especially and other families sitting here. The picnic tables, the trees, by the pool, and the coolness. It was just so non-modern and commercial.
Non-modern is increasingly hard to find in this once rural corner of the Maryland suburbs. But Michael Weal says even though the new Soft Stuff will look different, he's hoping it will become a community gathering place. And he's working hard to open in time for next year's ice cream season.
Hopefully we get a good winter and when I say good, nice weather like we did last year and they can keep building all year and then we should be ready to go in the spring.
Ready to go with the same creamy swirls of soft-serve that transport customers to a place and time when life was a bit slower, simpler and above all else, sweeter. I'm Tara Boyle.
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