Rainy afternoons are never welcome in the ice cream business.
Bob Draiss accepted Tuesday’s lousy weather. He was just glad to open Curry Freeze, which has been serving shakes and sundaes in Rotterdam for more than 50 years.
Curry Freeze’s mid-April starter was later than the spot’s usual opener, St. Patrick’s Day and March 17. COVID-19 precautions and commerce rules changed the game for Draiss and other ice cream sellers who traditionally have conducted business through large, open windows from spring through autumn.
Walking up to a window to order is out, and drive-through is in.
“We’re trying to be 100 percent ‘touchless,’ like all these places are doing,” said Draiss, who has owned Curry Freeze for the last 18 years. “They’re going to stop by where the menu board is, there will be signs to walk people through the process. A sign will say ‘Stop here for service, call this number.’ You’ll call the number, and we’ll take all the information over the phone, what the order is, credit card information.”
Curry Freeze customers on Tuesday were directed to drive their cars, trucks and vans to a pick-up counter on the side of the building, where their orders were waiting. “The customers get out of their cars, pick it up and then leave,” Draiss said.
Other ice cream restaurants are following similar plans. When Humpty Dumpty in Saratoga Springs opens on Friday, customers will stay in their vehicles as store employees deliver orders. Social distancing practices are in place at places such as Udderly Delicious in Johnstown, which opened March 8.
“We are not sorry about telling people to stay apart,” reads a post on the Udderly Delicous Facebook page. “This will ensure the safety of everyone. We know there are a lot of rules, but rules we need to keep our families safe. Some people are very upset, but we need to follow the rules that we are told to do. Please send one person up for the group to get an order.”
Draiss checked different business models before deciding on his one-way route around the building off Curry Road.
“We tried to take what we thought was the best from each one of them and put them into our plan,” he said, adding that staffers and friends in cars have tested the system. “We realize we’re going to learn, we’ll make mistakes. The whole idea is the process of trying to get people to flow through here efficiently while being safe.”
Draiss and two staffers will work inside the building, with one staffer on phone duty. He and an assistant will prep the ice cream orders. All three will wear protective face masks and gloves.
People will need wheels for service.
“We won’t have any walk-up at all,” Draiss said. “That’s part of the challenge, making sure people understand that. Instead of standing in line, basically you’re going to be in your car.”
Draiss believes people are ready for ice cream road trips, and will look forward to activities that take them out of their homes.
“We’ve been doing this for 18 years and we have a lot of regular customers, a lot of loyal customers,” Draiss said. “A lot of them have mentioned on Facebook that they’re really looking forward to us opening up and have had some suggestions on what we can do.
“It’s almost like a rite of spring, the nicer weather is coming once Curry Freeze opens,” Draiss said. “Hopefully this will bring some promise or some hope, I guess hope is a big word as far as people just hoping that things will get better.”
People showed up for ice cream Tuesday.
“It’s been very busy,” Draiss said, beginning another rush at 5:30 p.m.
Humpty Dumpty is opening only a week later than the originally scheduled April 17 start. It will not be business as usual.
“We are doing a lot different; it’s going to be drive-through so nobody is going to get out of their cars,” said owner Brenda Jennings, whose family has owned the West Avenue ice cream stand since 1968. “There’s going to be a lot of takeout and that’s about it. Nobody is going to be able to come up to the window. The girls are going to take orders from the people’s cars and then they’re going to give the order to the worker inside and they’ll just deliver the ice cream to the cars.”
Only cash transactions will work in the Humpty Dumpty system.
“That’s the only problem,” Jennings said. “But every time after they get done handling the cash, they’re going to put on a new pair of gloves and deliver the ice cream after they’ve changed their gloves.
“We are going to go through a lot of gloves, I am well aware of that,” Jennings added. “I don’t know of any better way to do it.”
Customers will not be allowed to hang around the Humpty Dumpty headquarters. The picnic area will be closed.
“There will be no benches or tables, we’re not going to have any out right now,” Jennings said.
In Amsterdam, Cappie’s Drive-In on Route 67 opened March 18.
“We offer a carhop service, which has always been that way,” said Donna Durinick, who owns the business with her husband, Craig. “The only thing different we’re doing is offering a delivery service.”
The drive-in’s indoor dining area is closed. But Durinick said the ice cream trade has been strong, especially considering the cool spring weather.
Some popular summer places remain closed. Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia was forced to cancel its planned March 26 opening. “Our primary concern is keeping you, our faithful customers, and our crew safe and healthy,” reads a notice on the restaurant’s website.
Martha’s Dandee Creme in Queensbury, a traditional stop for ice cream fans on Lake George jaunts, opened March 14 but closed less than a week later, on March 19. Health and safety were the chief reasons.
“This will be a temporary closing while we all manage through these trying times,” read a note on the business’ Facebook page. “The health and safety of our customers and employees remains our highest concern.”
In Latham, Guptill’s Ice Cream also opened March 14.
“Schools were still in, the world was normal, there was no social distancing even then,” said owner Wes Guptill.
“As the weeks went on, social distancing became a theme and it was easy for us to do, by the way” Guptill said. “We had no problem with it because of the size of the parking lot; it’s absolutely massive, it’s not like we’re on a small plot.”
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the order to close down all non-essential buildings on March 22, “We decided to do our part at that point,” Guptill said, “even though we were allowed to stay open. We voluntarily closed just for the safety of our employees, our customers, do our community part.
“There were no issues, people were happy,” Guptill added. “They were disappointed we closed, they understood why at the time.”
Guptill did not expect such an extended down time.
“These few weeks have gone on longer than I would have predicted,” he said.
Guptill also said people practiced social distancing as they bought ice cream. He said there was proper spacing, with only four of the stand’s nine windows open for business.
“One thing everyone should know about these ice cream stands, you don’t go in a building,” Guptill said. “You get out of your car, you approach a window, you don’t touch anything. The employees are also safe.”
Employees always wore latex gloves while handling ice cream cones, sundaes and other dishes. “Now, we’ll all wear masks,” Guptill said.
That day will come. Guptill said he expects to re-open his business in May.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]