Story #5: A Lucrative Future Selling Scoops of Exquisite Ice Cream Pairings of Lemon Zested Snickers Bars Fried in Wisconsin Badger Fat and Jalapeno Roquefort Fondue, and the Like…
The owner of DIY-ce Cream is a total curmudgeon.
Maybe it’s the hours of sitting around on that folding chair on the sidewalk, back against the yellow brick wall, watching the passersby. Maybe it’s that none of these passersby ever patronize the store. Maybe it’s reading the paper every day out here on Lincoln Avenue on these summer afternoons. The crime. The crooks. The politicians. The sports teams.
There’s no business. The owner of DIY-ce Cream blames the goddamn local government. He tapes up signs to the window, scribbled screeds in black sharpie.
“THIS MAYOR STINKS,” is the title of one.
“THIS NEIGHBORHOOD STINKS,” is the title of another.
“EVERYTHING STINKS,” is the title of still another.
It’s a sad storefront and a desolate business and the neighborhood senses the end, the way all these old forlorn little businesses inevitably close their doors, replaced by something more in line with what the newest neighborhood sociocultural group prefers.
Gentrification. You know. Oh Christ, do you know.
When Ye Olde Hair Metal Creamery moved in down the street–four, five years ago–what little business DIYce Cream had dissipated.
Time was, people enjoyed making their own ice cream. They enjoyed–they really did, dammit!–learning how to make chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. They would come by after ballgames at Welles Park and learn how to make their own ice cream. Kids. Now, kids eat and get fat and sit on their asses all day and play video games and pierce their noses.
So the owner of DIYce Cream thinks.
His younger brother–well, his younger half-brother–from Ma’s second marriage–the douchebag–strolls up . He is successful. He went to business school. Look at him. He is a dick. Most business men are dicks, amiright?
When the pleasantries are finished (the heyhowareyas, the observations on the climate in our fair city in June, sports, you know), his younger half-brother starts in again about how he’s gotta make the shop more appealing to the way the neighborhood is anymore.
“Yup it up,” half-brother says.
“Fuck that,” the owner of DIYce Cream says.
“You won’t have a business much longer if you keep it up like this,” his half-brother says.
“Fair enough,” the owner says. “I’ll move to Florida. Open up a stand on the beach. Year round.”
“You’ll hate Florida.”
The owner stops. Thinks. “Yeah. You’re right,” he says.
“You only offer three flavors,” his half-brother says. “Yuppies don’t like only three flavors. And Millenials…”
“Kids today. Young adults.”
“Anyway, Millenials don’t like only having three choices. They like to brag, like to think they’re fancy when they socially network online and say shit like “Went to DIYce Cream today and made my own Acai Berry Nougat Crunch ChocoLemon Gelato in a soy waffle cone, smiley face emoticon!
“And neither of them care about learning to make only three flavors of ice cream. They sell ice cream in Best Buy now.”
The owner of D.I.Yce Cream has so many questions. What is social networking? What is an acai berry? What is a smiley face emoticon? Instead, he shrugs, grunts “Mehhhh….” He feels so old, and he’s only fifty.
“My Dad ran this place,” the owner says. “He did fine.”
“But that was then.” Half-brother extends a hand to the bustle of the sidewalk. Double-wide strollers pushed by young moms in boutique clothing compete for sidewalk space with fatless triathletes sprinting with heart rate monitors strapped to their biceps compete for sidewalk space with 25 year old Cubs fans, drunk and sandaled and not terribly concerned with how the game went.
“Get a web presence. Get some yelpers. Yelping. About you. About the store. Work with CoupOnLine, get a CoupOnLine. That’ll get you the business. That’s why you’re in business, right? It’s a younger neighborhood, more upscale. They’re the ones with the cash. Have bands play in-stores while your customers make their own ice cream. Hell, don’t call it ice cream anymore. Call it California Dairy-infused Swiss Milk Chocolate swirled counterclockwise with Bavarian hot fudge.
“And for God’s sake, take down all these political rants. Nobody around here gives a shit.”
The owner looks up. “I’ll think about it,” he says, rising from his chair, stepping inside the store. “I gotta take a dump.”
“OK. OK. The half-brother says. “We’ll talk soon.” The half-brother is delighted. The owner has never been this open to his suggestions.
The day ends. Zero business. Zero. It’s eighty degrees in June in Chicago and there was no business. The owner doesn’t feel like bothering to wait around until 10PM to see if anyone will stop by.
The owner of DIYce Cream walks north on Lincoln. On the other side of the square is Olde Tyme Hair Metal Ice Cream. The line to get in snakes out the front door, down two blocks of sidewalk. When the front doors opens, the kids scooping the ice cream and collecting the money yell, “Hell-low! Cleveland!” in raspy arena rock and roll falsettos. The walls of the store are zebra, cheetah, and lynx prints. The ice cream is named after the glam metal bands of the late 1980’s. The Motley Crueberry. Whitesnake Fudge Ripple. Great White Chocolate. The owner contrasts this with his store. White walls. White tile floors. Chocolate. Vanilla. Strawberry.
The owner is not dumb. He thinks, yeah, his goddamn half-brother is probably right. To stay in this business, in this neighborhood, he needs to embrace the need of the yuppie to always want to learn things, to start book clubs, to boldly seek new and exotic flavors to their foods and drinks, to learn to play the ukulele at the Old Town School of Folk.
The owner keeps walking. The success of others in your line of work hurts when you’re failing. He needs to go home and think.
The owner’s half-brother drives home in the traffic of the summer evening of the Blagoevich Parkway. The dumbly aggressive driving of the locals, the lane closures, the tell-it-like-it-is raving of the local sports talk radio show does nothing to shake his vision of what DIYce Cream could be, if the owner would only listen to him!
They could move beyond ice cream’s “big three,” and sell unorthodox flavors that will get the store noticed–by sophisticated passersby, by refined bloggers, by the tastemaking alternative weeklies when they do their big “Best Ice Cream in Chicago” issues–exquisite pairings like Upper Peninsula Michigan Blueberry and Applewood Smoked Bacon, Pan-Seared Duck Comfit and Plum Tomato Demiglaze, Lemon Zested Snickers Bars Fried in Wisconsin Badger Fat and Jalapeno Roquefort Fondue. And there could be classes on how to make these ice cream flavors–beginning, intermediate, and advanced. The latest in independent rock and roll music–nothing rated below 9.3 according to Pitchfork’s highly-scientific rating system–would waft through the overhead speakers. Artwork–from local artists and everything!–would adorn the walls, and they could have a sign talking about how DIYce Cream supports the efforts of community artists because like once Vincent Van Gogh was a community artist and what if he had been ignored you know? The scoops would be scooping. The money would be rolling in, hand over fist. The Yelpers of Yelp dot com would be positively ecstatic in their praise, and other yelpers would declare the yelps to be funny, cool, and helpful: “If I could give this like a million stars, I would. The Chef/Owner continually creates innovative concoctions of sublime ice cream pairings. Don’t let that long line scare you. It’s so totally worth the wait. The Chef/Owner is so friendly and doesn’t rant about politics at all. The music overhead is lush and bearded. The artwork on the walls is bold yet tasteful, not unlike the ice cream served here. All the flavors are sensual in their textures, a feast for jaded palettes weary of the passe of our Grampa’s proverbial ice cream, but no trip to DIYce Cream is complete without a nice Belgian Waffle cone stuffed with three scoops of Buffalo Free Range Chicken and Hidden Valley Ranch Celery. You’ll be glad you did!”
And to imagine what the funny, funny CoupOn Line would say, because that’s the thing about the popular CoupOn Line website, they come up with some funny, funny material, real zany stuff like, “Everybody knows that ice cream was invented by ancient Egyptian mint chocolate merchants looking for a way to make a quick buck from the slaves building the pyramids who needed something to cool them down on those sphinx-day afternoons. While the sand and tahini flavor didn’t exactly become the 8th wonder of the world, mummies and daddies alike flock with their kids to DIYce Cream to learn how to make their own specialty ice creams….” Ha ha ha! It would be magical. The transformation would be glorious! Lucrative! They could hire a staff. They could take inspiration trips to Amsterdam and Nairobi and learn how those cultures are transforming the art of making ice cream.
If only the owner, his stubborn, hard-headed half-brother, would listen to him. They could work together. They could make this work. Step aside, Ye Olde Tyme Hair Metal Ice Cream. It is time for DIYce Cream to regain its dominance in the Lincoln Square Ice Cream Wars.
The Owner slides The Dan disc into the CD player, turns on the ignition, and waits.
“If I had my way, I would move to another lifetime,” Donald Fagen sings, and the Owner thinks, Fuckin’ A. What The Dan said: Any world that I’m welcome to, is better than the one I come from.
He thought he’d adjust the seat and get as comfortable as one can get in a 2001 Kia Sportage, close his eyes, and wait. Instead, he stares at the garage door opener clasped to the pulldown shade, emerging as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the garage. A tiny gray rectangle with a white oval button. He’s not sure how much time he has before he’s unconscious, or can’t breathe, until whatever is supposed to happen inevitably happens. It’s almost funny how life comes down to a decision like this–win/win or lose/lose–all down to a garage door button. It’s a simple decision, really, but there isn’t much time.