A look back and a sneak peek … (celebrity edition)

About a month ago, I received a message from a Gary Michaels wishing me well with opening a new shop.  He shared that his family had lived at 102 Fairmont from the 1930s until the 1970s when it was George’s Corner Store. I was so excited to hear from Gary because it meant I could find out more about the building and the corner store. (Little did I know that Gary was the Gary Michaels well known and loved Ottawa radio personality!)

What was George’s Corner Store (aka The Fairmont Confectionery) like long ago?

The Tax roll book from 1930 shows an entry with McBain third line down

I only knew that the McBains were the first owners in 1923.  Gary told me that his parents rented from the Davids (surely no relation?) as early as the 1930s and the Davids had purchased from the McBains. When Gary’s father George Zahab passed away in 1960, his mother, Hazel Zahab purchased the building from the Davids and changed the name to The Fairmont Confectionery.  Gary said he has fond memories of living above the shop as a child and working in the grocery store.  

I have some idea of what that must have been like.  My husband’s parents owned a bakery (now my brother-in-law owns it) that is attached to their house, and I know from seeing my children’s excitement how exciting it is to live in a home attached to a shop.  When my kids were little, visiting Oma and Opa’s house and running downstairs into a shop filled with so much activity was magical. The shelves were stocked with bread, pastries, jelly donuts, drinks and even candy. As older children, working alongside their grandparents during a summer vacation or Christmas holiday, was the best. 

In the corner store of Gary’s childhood, his family enjoyed a very busy grocery business.  The Zahabs actually grew their own produce on a fifty-acre farm in Carlsbad Springs that they purchased in the late 40s.  They grew tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and more. In front of the shop, George had a display shelf built for the fresh corn they sold.  Gary remembers fondly spending two summers at the farm with his grandfather and sister.  In George’s Corner Store, there was fresh produce on the south side of the store and items like popcorn and chips were on the north side of the doorway. There were two checkout registers on either side of the middle aisle.  The Zahab family worked hard, growing their produce and selling it. Unfortunately, it was the supermarkets opening on Sunday and staying open late that changed the course of their business.  Hazel Zahab sold the shop in 1972.

When I first saw this building,  I could envision a production kitchen for The Merry Dairy in the back part of the shop. At first glance, space was quickly taken up by a freezer, ice cream equipment, and work areas. The front, however, is all about the scoop shop and people walking in from the street for a frozen treat.   I have had so much help from Stefania Crilly, owner of Spruce Design in creating this space. There will be outdoor seating and a few spots to sit inside along the front window.  The best part of the shop? There will be three kinds of ice cream: in addition to Midwestern style frozen custard being made in the first continuous batch ice cream machine purchased now five years ago, there will also be soft serve custard and regular hard scoop ice cream in the dipping cabinet.

Here’s what the storefront for The Merry Dairy will look like.  As work continues over the next few weeks, you can see how we are building on the brand originally designed for the truck by Brandbot Digital Marketing. Inside pics coming soon! (ps – want to learn more about Kitchissippi’s history? Visit the Kitchissippi Museum blog!

 

Floors, Doors and Power

So much has been happening at 102 Fairmont, with decisions about lights, flooring, awnings, tile, spacing, and ice cream flavours all happening at the same time. We are still making frozen custard too!

Here are some highlights of the changes that have been happening at the shop on Fairmont.

Last week Lloyd (he is the one who is making everything come together) leveled the floor by using a laser level. He had to cut many strips of wood, all different measurements, and nail them across the width of the floor so that when the new floor is laid, the fridges, freezers and ice cream machines will sit level.

icecreamshop

How to level a floor

Next, and probably most important of all, we had to bring more power into this lovely, old building via a trench from the closest power pole.  On Tuesday, they dug a trench and ran a line through to the basement, right where the coal chute used to be.  Now there is a new electrical panel with 400 amps of power so that everything can run and we won’t trip a breaker each time we turn on more than one machine at once.  Ice cream machines take a lot of power!

trenchwork

digging a trench to bring 400 amps – that’s not Lloyd!

While this was happening on the outside and in the basement,  electricians were also busy inside the building running lines throughout the shop floor, rewiring the knob and tube wiring in the apartment upstairs, and making sure that there will be enough lighting evenly spaced throughout the shop and there are enough outlets to run all the equipment.

wires

Wiring for everything

And remember how we discovered that the front door had been moved from the center to the right, probably sometime in the 70s?  Now it is our turn in history to alter a building and we are moving the back door from the left side to the center. We are changing it to allow for a better placement of the walk-in fridge and freezer.

A new, wider door

Finally, we have been busy making mojito and strawberry rhubarb Merry Pops!  And we received our shipment of the most delicious artisanal cones from The Konery in Brooklyn.  Creamsicle, Salted Blue Corn, and Birthday Cake will be on the menu for Westfest next weekend June 2-4th. Hope to see you there.  It’s free, it’s at Laroche Park and there is going to be a great line-up of musicians!

Creamsicle cone from The Konery!

Strawberry Rhubarb Ice pops

merry pops ice pops

Mojito ice pops!

A building’s history: hidden in the layers

The journey continues for The Merry Dairy. The truck that began its journey in Pennsylvania now has its home in Ottawa.

And now the building at the corner of Fairmont and Gladstone, that has had its home in Ottawa for the past 90+ years, begins its new journey as home base for The Merry Dairy.

It’s a journey that began in earnest over the past month – one that has uncovered history in layers.

Dave Allston, who writes about local history in his blog Kitchissippi Museum, shared a clipping from 1923 from the long-defunct Ottawa Journal, reporting how Mr. D.C. McBain received a building permit in 1923 for a brick and stucco store with residence for a cost of $5500.  In today’s prices, that would be $76,822 (note to self – send to MPAC).  102 Fairmont has housed a few different owners since then, who themselves made improvements and changes to the structure.  I’ll share some details about the people who lived here in a future post.  For now, it’s all about construction and the discoveries it brings!

For example, outside, next to the Bell pay telephone, we found signs of a coal chute under the commercial ice freezer, pre-dating an oil furnace which was then replaced with the current gas furnace a few years ago. Coal would have been loaded into the basement through that chute to heat the building.

Not only were there layers and layers of flooring in the store, (5 in total!) there were also doors and windows behind the wood paneling. A fun discovery was finding out that the original shop entrance was in the middle of the front window and not on the right side where it is currently. If you have ever visited Thyme & Again on Wellington, 102 Fairmont once had an entrance much the same as that building has.

Unfortunately, the original wooden floor from 1923 is beyond repair.

Tearing back these layers had to be done.   Many materials used to build up until the late 70s contained asbestos and this old building on Fairmont had its fair share.  Floor tiles, ceiling tiles, as well as plaster – it all had it. Since we have to install a new ceiling with a fire rated barrier and level the floor for installing equipment, we needed to remove all the materials containing asbestos.

Now that this is all done, we are ready to start building! We often hear the kids outside of the shop asking when will it be open … our answer is as soon as possible! 🙂 We look forward to inviting the neighbourhood to the opening

There is more history to come and frozen custard. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of a building on its way to becoming a new home …

Setting up shop in Hintonburg

Just over five years ago, my family and I trundled down to southern Pennsylvania to check out a Grumman Stepvan with the intention of bringing frozen custard to Ottawa. This was after a decade of living and working in the US, and sampling frozen custard as we travelled the country.

In those five years, that truck has become The Merry Dairy. I have been overwhelmed by how this community has welcomed this plucky little truck into its neighbourhoods, community events, fundraisers, and corporate events.

I believe ice cream and all frozen treats can make people happier because it brings people together.

Keeping The Merry Dairy mobile, stocked with fresh frozen custard so that it can deliver that happiness has meant a variety of production arrangements over the years in a variety of places.

As much as we roamed, we also needed a home base.

And that base is Hintonburg – home to a wonderful, diverse and supportive community, centrally located and lots of fun. When opportunity knocked late last year in the form of the sale of the iconic Fairmont Confectionery, located at 102 Fairmont Avenue, and its beloved Sam’s Cafe, it was time.

If you’ve been by lately, you will have seen some early signs of a new beginning for this wonderful landmark of customer service and local character.

Over the next eight weeks, a lot of work will be done so that we can be open by the summer. If you’re interested in seeing how an ice cream home is made, you can follow the progress on The Merry Dairy Instagram page.

They say that life is one long journey in understanding yourself and finding your road. It’s turned out my road leads to Hintonburg, and all points beyond.

Marlene ….

PS – wondering what some really neat ice cream shops and trucks are that inspire The Merry Dairy? Check out the amazing people and stories at The Dairy Godmother in Delray, Virginia, The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop in NYC, JPs Custard Cart in Albuquerque, Carmen’s Italian Ice in Rockville, Maryland, Kloters Ice Cream Barn in Ellington, CT and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis, MO. These are just a few. There are so many many more!

PPS – yes – there will be a neighbourhood grand opening party and you are all invited. Details to come … 😉

 

Driving slowly for the rush …

rushThe Rush …

When it’s all about the joy

I often get asked about the cover shot on The Merry Dairy’s Facebook page and every time I do, it reminds me of one of the parts of The Merry Dairy I love the most – that instant when a group of kids rush out to the truck!

It’s an exercise in driving very slowly and deliberately just to make sure a little one’s enthusiasm doesn’t overtake the safety rules their parents have been trying to instill in them!

But that rush is such a joy for me, and I hope for the kids and their parents too – whatever the occasion or reason.  Today was another such

example as the truck pulled into Parkdale Park to say hello on a beautiful sunny day 🙂

I am no kid expert, even with my own two, but thinking back when I was that age, I think what makes it so much fun is that for a kid, the truck is about surprise, randomness, and being the special ones for that moment in time.

The kids will learn over time that it is someone’s hard work that pays for an ice cream cone. (Do they learn that as teenagers? lol) But until then, it is just great to be a part of some happiness and joy and maybe even a memory or two.

And speaking of happiness and joy, if you have a Merry Dairy buy one get one free coupon, we have extended those until July 31. And if you want to spread that joy to your own friends and family, send them this email, so they can get the same deal too when they subscribe.

Marlene

Soooo…. what’s YOUR overrun? Or, is there too much air in here??

Overrun … it’s not when you jog past your limits ….

It’s an ice cream industry term

for the amount of air that’s put into the ice cream base as it’s being turned into ice cream. The higher the overrun, the more air that’s in your ice cream. Ever had ice cream that tastes a little bland? Especially the soft-serve kind? It might be because, because there’s high degree of overrun, apart from other factors such as artificial ingredients.

The Merry Dairy has low overrun. This our frozen custard denser than standard ice cream, and enhances what the industry calls “mouth feel” or smoothness.

Ok – enough of the technical explanations! How about just a picture of chocolate frozen custard … 🙂

Tonight: Milk chocolate frozen custard 😊 #buyfood2givefood

A photo posted by The Merry Dairy (@themerrydairy) on 

Ever Been to The Parkdale Food Centre?

Maybe you haven’t. And maybe you’ll never have to. But for a lot of people in the Hintonburg, Mechanicsville and Parkdale neighbourhoods, a food bank is a

fact of life. The Merry Dairy has been friends with the folks at the Parkdale Food Bank for a few years now and we are honoured to be counted among those who help in our own small way.

In early May, the PFC held its

2nd annual gala. While The Merry Dairy truck couldn’t be there due to a previous commitment, the new Merry Dairy Cart was there and full of Merry Pops and Ice Cream Sandwiches!

Here’s a great local institution. May the Parkdale Food Bank go out of business some day …. but until that day, let’s all be grateful for their great work and be a part of their success and compassion.

Our neighbours Beyond the Pale Brewery helped out too as did so many others! Want to help out? Visit the Parkdale Food Centre and learn how you can help and donate!

Frozen Custard? What’s dat?

A long time ago, in an ice cream stand far, far way – Coney Island in 1919 to be exact, frozen custard came to be … when ice cream vendors Archie and Elton Kohr found that adding egg yolks to ice cream created a smoother texture and helped the ice cream stay cold longer. In their first weekend on the boardwalk, they sold 18,460 cones.

A frozen custard stand at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago introduced the dessert to a wider audience. Following the fair, the dessert’s popularity spread throughout the Midwest; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in particular, became known as the “unofficial frozen custard capital

of the world”. (Source: Wikipedia)

Since then a lot has happened to ice cream, and much of that has involved forcing more air into the product, adding stabilizers and lots and lots of artificial flavours and colours.

Done right, frozen custard is smooth and tasty, and made fresh that day. The Merry Dairy is proud to use its very own original recipe, composed of all-natural ingredients, and sourced from a local dairy!

Wisconsin is considered by many to be the capital of frozen custard, where the fresh-scooped ice cream is a dreamy reason in itself to visit the Badger State! In Ottawa, we are proud to have been inspired by the Dairy Godmother, Wisconsin-born and raised, who now runs a frozen custard shop in Alexandria, VA. Be sure to stop by if you are in the Washington, DC area!

How is frozen custard made? Check

out this instagram video of The Merry Dairy producing some fresh frozen custard in The Merry Dairy truck …. 🙂

Fresh vanilla frozen custard being made at Preston Farmers' Market!😄😃

A video posted by The Merry Dairy (@themerrydairy) on