Malts, Milkshakes and the Mayor

Malts, Milkshakes and the Mayor

Clifton mayor, family ready to open ice cream stand in their garage this spring.

On a hot summer's day, residents of Clifton won't have to leave their small town to get a cool treat.

Mayor Tom Peterson and his wife, Jean, are transforming the ground floor of their garage into an ice cream stand, featuring home-made soft-serve ice cream, 15 different flavors of milkshakes and, as Jean Peterson hopes will be their specialty, malts.

"There's an ice cream stand at the boardwalk near my parent's beach house in Rehoboth, and every summer I can't wait to go there and get a malt," Jean Peterson said. "I'm really hoping that'll be what we're known for, having the best malts in Northern Virginia."

The Petersons were inspired to start their own ice cream stand, which will be called Peterson's Ice Cream Depot, after visiting Woody's Ice Cream in Fairfax last spring.

"It's just a little trailer, but the place was swamped," Tom Peterson said. "We thought we could put a stand in our detached garage. We always thought it was a shame that people had to go get ice cream and eat it in the parking lot of a strip mall when we've got this beautiful town here."

A sidewalk will take patrons from Main Street in Clifton around the Peterson's house and lead them to the garage, where the ice cream is made and will be served. The early menu has been established and will feature chocolate, vanilla and twist soft-serve ice cream along with one or two flavors of the week, along with a selection of flavored milk shakes and malts.

"We have worked with the other business owners in town and we won't sell anything you can get in the other stores," Peterson said. "We won't sell coffee, because we have a coffee shop here. The Clifton Store is here and we won't sell anything they sell. We might sell hot dogs down the road, but not at the start."

The Petersons had a trial run of their ice cream business during Clifton Day last summer, and Tom Peterson said their treats were a big hit.

"We sold black cherry as the special flavor and it was a huge success," he said.

NOW THAT Tom Peterson is retiring from a teaching career at Robinson Secondary School, he said he's glad to have something to occupy his time.

"Then again, loving ice cream the way I do, I worry about the extra weight," he laughed.

Not only will the ice cream stand provide a new source of refreshment in Clifton, Tom Peterson said it will give the town's teenagers another place to work.

"I've worked with kids for the past 30 years and this will let me keep doing that," he said. "Plus, it gives the kids work experience which they need. I'm not sure I would've done this unless I had teenage daughters and a son who can work there."

Jean Peterson agreed that the stand will help their family stay busy in the summer.

"This is a good way for our kids to learn about business and it's something that we could eventually turn over to them," she said.

In addition to walk-up service, Jean Peterson said they're considering using a relay system of walkie-talkies to take orders from the road.

"We have 4,000 cars a day cutting through town," she said. "We figured we could have someone out there taking orders and someone else running them out. We're still trying to nail down the logistics of that, though."

Patrons will be able to enjoy their frozen treats on benches placed in the Peterson's backyard or across the street in Ayre Square, Tom Peterson said.

"We want people to visit the parks and see the town," he said.

Even the decor of the stand will reflect the historic atmosphere of Clifton, with old street signs affixed to the garage's outside walls, he said.

PRIOR TO OPENING, which is expected to be in early April, the Petersons had to receive approval from the Clifton Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board.

"The property is already zoned commercial, which is the only way they were able to get the permits," said Michelle Stein, a member of the Planning Commission. "Every business that opens has to have parking requirements and hours of operation, which he had to have approved."

Stein thinks the ice cream stand will be a good addition to the town's atmosphere.

"It's another way to get together with neighbors on a regular basis," she said. "I think it's a great item to add, it'll get a lot of support."

Long-time Clifton resident and Town Council member Wayne Nickum thinks the stand is just what the town has been lacking.

"My great-grandmother ran a soda fountain in my hometown in Pennsylvania until 1953," he said. "This is something every small town needs. We've got the coffee shop, we've got the Clifton store, now all we need is a pub."

Philip Fisher, who was playing basketball in the park just across the street from the Petersons' house, said he'll be waiting in line on opening day.

"I'll use it a lot in the summer after school gets out," he said. "On a warm day, it'll be nice to have it here and it's in a really convenient spot."

Neighbor Ginny Keen agreed and said she's looking forward to having an ice cream stand down the street from her house.

"We all love ice cream in this town," she said. "It's going to be a fun addition here."

Tom Peterson isn't the first local mayor to open an ice cream store in his jurisdiction. City of Fairfax Mayor Rob Lederer opened his own ice cream store and coffee shop last June.

"I think every small town should have a mayor that serves ice cream," said Lederer, who also makes his own flavors of ice cream. "In my case, I lived in the city my entire life and remember my father had a dream of an ice cream shop in Old Town Fairfax."

Patrons to Lederer's store sit in rocking chairs along Chain Bridge Road, watching traffic, or inside the store discussing town events, he said. The store has become a meeting place for residents where they discuss politics or the events of the day.

"I'm sure Tom will have the same success we've had here," Lederer said. "I think it helped contribute to the renaissance of Old Town Fairfax while we're doing all this reconstruction and restoration."

Could there be a mayoral ice cream challenge in the future?

"I'd love to challenge him to see who makes the best ice cream," Lederer said.