No matter what Punxsutawney Phil has to say, the opening of Arnie’s Place in Concord has been a sure sign of spring for the last 19 years. The Capital City ice cream institution opens every year on the Thursday before February school vacation.
Though ice chunks until recently still speckled the shop’s puddled parking lot, and the Arnie’s truck, used for off-site events, was parked next to a snowbank, the shop opened on Feb. 23. It will stay open through Columbus Day weekend.
“Sure, we might get some stormy days, but if you come by on a Thursday when it’s nice out, we’ll have five employees on and a full parking lot,” said owner Tom Arnold.
“People eat ice cream all year-round, but we’re the only place in the area where they can get homemade ice cream,” he added. “We can load it and make it with love and care, rather than have it come out of a factory.”
Arnold began his ice cream career working as a dishwasher at the Weeks Family Restaurant chain in 1964. He went on to manage an ice cream shop in the 1970s, eventually running a shop of his own in Penacook before opening Arnie’s in 1993 in a former Dairy Queen on Loudon Road.
Among the nearly 50 flavors of ice cream available anytime at Arnie’s are a few fall flavors, such as Pumpkin, Indian Pudding (made with cooked cornmeal and molasses) and Apple (vanilla ice cream mixed with cooked apple, cinnamon and shortbread cookie chunks). Customers can even order such flavors as Peppermint Stick (a holiday favorite spotted with red and green peppermint chunks) in the summer. Arnold is still working to develop new flavors for the 2012 season.
“We buy local as much as we can — when things are in season,” Arnold said. Local peaches are used in the peach ice cream at the shop. “When we pick them, they’re so juicy it runs down your arm,” he said.
A room at Arnie’s is dedicated to hard ice cream production. Hard ice cream is made regularly (with 14 to 16 percent butterfat) at the shop, which goes through 300 two-and-a-half-gallon tubs of it a week during the busy season, Arnold said. Freezers tucked behind the shop are always stocked with customer favorites. The only hard ice cream not made at the shop is Moose Tracks, which Arnold said is a popular flavor among children.
During the summer, ice cream is served from four windows in front of the shop. There is seating inside the eatery, which boasts a red and white checkerboard linoleum floor, and a row of picnic tables is set up outside for al fresco dining.
When customers request nuts as an ice cream topping, they are not just stuck with walnuts at Arnie’s. The shop also offers pecans, cashews, almonds and pistachios. Candy toppings are also abundant: waffle cone pieces, gummy bears, Nerds, Chocolate Cake Crunch, Skittles, Oreos, mini M&Ms and Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, among others.
“We can do it — we’re independent,” Arnold said. “We have more fun at it.”
Arnold began offering barbecued meats at his shop — pulled pork, spareribs and sausages — around six years ago. “There is only one other place around that does it, and that’s Beefside, but they do it different … it gives us a niche,” he said. Arnold was inspired to invest in a smoker by Cotton owner Jeff Paige, who was then executive chef at Shaker Village in Canterbury. When Arnold would visit the Village to deliver homemade Espresso and Rose Hip ice creams, Paige would offer him samples of his pulled pork. “I learned to love barbecue,” Arnold said. Hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches are also served at Arnie’s.
Arnold noted reliability as one of the reasons his shop has been able to thrive on a road that is lined mostly by big box stores and chain restaurants: “It’s about treating people nice and being consistent,” he said.
“People can come here year after year and see the same employees,” he said. “We’re a family.” Six of the shop’s employees have worked there for more than a decade.
“It’s all because of them. I just pay the bills,” he said, pointing to his employees. “We’re who we are because of the people that work here.”