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Cool temperatures, a northwest breeze and intermittent mixed precipitation — along with a prediction of 3 to 6 inches of new snow to come overnight — weren’t the optimal ingredients for big ice cream sales Friday afternoon.
Yet a steady stream of customers made their way to opening day of the new season at Butterfield’s Ice Cream in Dover-Foxcroft for a hearty scoop of the iconic parlor’s handmade, hard-serve ice cream — perhaps as a cool change of pace from recent daily routines fraught with COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s busier than I expected. I didn’t know how it was going to do,” said Bob Winkler of Monson, who with his wife Donna are beginning their 21st year as the owners of Butterfield’s.
“Somebody said to me that people are looking for other options right now so once you guys open people will come because options are limited right now for places to eat.”
Butterfield’s has been an ice cream institution in southern Piscataquis County since it opened on Velma and Earl Butterfield’s farm at the same location in July 1950 to use some of the milk being produced by their small herd of cows.
But while the basic recipe has remained largely the same — though the Winklers now produce more than 30 different hard-serve ice cream flavors — Butterfield’s has not outlasted the current pandemic without some concessions.
The dining room adjacent to the ice cream stand was not open Friday — though Gov. Janet Mills’ announcement later in the day relaxing restrictions on the state’s restaurants as of May 18 in Piscataquis and 11 other Maine counties could change that status at some point this year.
And the two lines of ice-cream hungry customers that typically stretch out toward West Main Street for much of the summer have been reduced to one line for ordering ice cream and milkshakes, and a second line dedicated to picking up those orders as well as takeout food orders — all in the interest of social distancing.
“We thought if we ran two lines there would be too many people together, but if we ran one line and fed them out of the other line that would help,” Winkler said.
Friday’s opening day of the ice cream season at Butterfield’s came about three weeks later than usual as the couple determined how to operate their business amid the continuing coronavirus environment.
“We wondered if we could or should, and once we could we just wanted to see how things were playing out,” Winkler said. “We put a lot of thought into it, mainly how we were going to operate to keep the public as safe as we can and to keep the employees as safe as we can — including ourselves because we’re not getting any younger.
“It’s a learning curve for all of us.”
Some 400 to 450 gallons of handmade ice cream were available for Friday’s first customers, though the Winklers anticipated some change in customer preferences based on evolving shopping habits fostered by the pandemic.
“We made a lot of extra packaged container quarts, which take more time but I knew it could be more of a grab-and-go [situation],” Bob Winkler said.
“A lot of people like to come and just hang out at the [outside picnic] tables and enjoy their ice cream, but I figured with this situation the way it is maybe a lot of people would just want to grab a couple of containers and go.”
The Winklers also have reduced their normal business hours at least temporarily, though they plan to reassess the situation as conditions change. Up-to-date information is available on Butterfield’s Facebook page.
“Eventually we’ll set some picnic tables out and spread them out so families can sit in the sun on a nice day,” Winkler said. “It’s still a little cool yet.”
The Winklers are confident the consistency of their clientele and quality of their product — Butterfield’s Ice Cream received the 2016 Best in Maine Editors’ Choice Award from Down East magazine — will hold their business in good stead throughout a still uncertain season to come.
“We don’t know what [Saturday] will bring,” Donna Winkler said. “We’re supposed to be getting snow, but we’ll be open.”
Watch: Janet Mills shares changes for rural businesses