OLD LYME — The flavor of retirement is bittersweet for Angie Reale, proprietor of the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shop, whose last day of serving scoops of Moroccan Rose, salted caramel and peach to the community will be Aug. 31.
“I have 10-year-long customers and they make me cry when they say, ‘What do you mean you’re leaving?’” she said. “I have customers who worked here, went to college, and now have kids of their own. It’s a cycle that will be broken, but everything changes.”
Reale sat out front on one of the multi-colored benches on Tuesday, reminiscing with customers and talking about her 10 years in the ice cream business.
“There’s some customers I can’t even talk to because I just break down and cry because they’re crying and then I’m crying. And they’re saying, ‘This is our happy place.’”
During her tenure, Reale has been the solo ice cream maker and she won a Golden Cone in 2017 for her Moroccan Rose flavor.
This week she’s making her last batches of ice cream. The deadline for orders for pints and quarts is August 15, and after that it’s “catch as catch can.”
As if on cue, a customer stopped by to order two quarts of peach and two quarts of salted caramel.
Then a customer, who wished to remain anonymous, stopped by the shop, and said Moroccan Rose was her favorite flavor.
“You’re not gonna have it anywhere else. So the ice cream base is super creamy. It’s got dates, and I think apricots in it, cardamom — and there’s a little subtle ginger in it… It’s just so great.”
Also standing in line was a customer from Middleton, Mass. named Stan, who said he comes to Old Lyme first for the art and second for the ice cream.
“A memory brought us back here… and of course the unique flavor options here,” he said. As he decided between black cherri fudge and peach, he added “This is not easy.”
Watching customers and enjoying the afternoon breeze, Reale said she isn’t sure where she’s going yet and what the future holds.
“There’s a big world out there,” she said.
At 70, Reale said she’s in remission from cancer — another reason to retire — and that her neighbors and customers were wonderful, “always checking in.”
Visiting on Tuesday were two friends, George Porto, of North Haven, and Diane Michaud, of Coventry. The pair said their discovery of Reale’s shop happened serendipitously while on a motorcycle ride up on the New York/Massachusetts border.
“It was like two o’clock in the afternoon. And I says, “Let’s go for ice cream.’ And some people walking by said, “You know where the best ice cream is? You’ve gotta go to the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shop’… So we went across the whole state and came down here and that’s when the magic happened.”
Porto and Michaud became friends with Reale, and helped her get through her cancer treatments. They said they will miss her ice cream, but will stay in touch with Reale.
“She wrecked me. I was 170 pounds and now I’m 285,” Porto laughed. “With the salted caramel, I will never be able to eat other ice cream again… After you eat it, you gotta have a cigarette afterward.”
And the Moroccan Rose flavor?
“It’s like a fairy tale in my mouth,” said Michaud.
Denise Fisher, whose daughter Emma was working the window at the shop, stopped by with her son Brady and daughter Violet. Brady ordered chocolate ice cream with gummy bears. Violet had a hot brownie sundae.
“It is such a gathering spot of locals, it’s not touristy,” said Fisher. “And it’s pretty busy most days, and the fact that most are locals shows how big our little community really is.”
Fisher said Reale has been a great role model for her workers.
“She has been a strong woman, an example to all the girls with her work ethic,” said Reale.
Emma, a rising senior at Lyme Old Lyme High School, said working for Reale has been wonderful.
“The shop has a small business feel and we all talk a lot. It’s not corporate. The people she hires are very nice,” Emma said. “The customers are mostly local, so you have a lot of regulars, not a lot of tourists.”
Reale commented she enjoyed working with her “girls” each year.
“I’m the first one to tell them good job because I think that’s what they need to hear,” Reale said.
But running the shop as a solo entrepreneur has been a lot of work and, at 70, Reale said, “It was time…and you have your limitations.”
She said saying good-bye will be difficult but the new owners, Robin and Jose, will open an art gallery in the space and bring fresh ideas and life to Lyme St.
“Like I said, it’s very, very bittersweet for me. But, hey, they’ve given me the 10 best years of my life here — good people and a good town,” she said. “And I really want them to embrace Robin and her partner, Jose, because I think her gallery is gonna be fun and different from the other galleries on the street. And I think she just may be a shot of what the street needs.”
And where does Reale recommend customers go for ice cream?
“I’m sending people to Julia at up at Hallmark,” she said. “ She’s not within walking distance — I get that. But get in your car and give her your business because she’s young and she needs it.”