From dream to sweet equity
CONCORD - Asked what his favorite ice cream flavor is, Wade Rubinstein responds that it’s like deciding which of his children he loves best. Except that Rubinstein has just two children, and he offers 28 flavors of ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet in the display case at his new dessert café, Reasons To Be Cheerful.
“I’m partial to our chocolate, but this week I fell in love with cinnamon. I didn’t know until we made it how good it would be,’’ he said. “It’s like having your child make the honor roll: Now I just keep talking about the cinnamon.’’
Ruminating on his preferred flavor isn’t the only time Rubinstein compares his situation to parenting. He says bringing the West Concord ice cream parlor from the status of long-held dream to fully operating reality in June was a little like he imagines childbirth to be.
“During the many months of writing my business plan, applying for permitting and finalizing the lease, I wasn’t always sure I would make it through,’’ he said, “but now that it’s operational, the pain is in the past.’’
In his first career, as a systems engineer, Rubinstein traveled more than he wanted to. Several years ago, the longtime Concord resident decided to make a change that would keep him closer to home. He earned his teaching certificate and taught fifth grade in the Newton public schools, which he now refers to as “the hardest work in the world.’’ He realized quickly that teaching wasn’t right for him; it was time to make yet another course correction.
In the back of his mind was a secret passion for the ice cream parlors he and his family often visited on Cape Cod, and validation for that fantasy came from an unexpected source: a study commissioned by Concord to find out what its residents felt was missing from the community.
“The study looked at Concord’s three villages: Main Street, the Thoreau Street area, and West Concord,’’ Rubinstein said. “In West Concord, the study revealed that what people most wanted was ice cream.’’
So Rubinstein, who has loved baking all his life, set about to learn the art and science behind frozen dairy products. He attended a two-day “Ice Cream University’’ seminar with industry expert Malcolm Stogo, and started educating himself on equipment while also waiting for the right space to open up. He finally found it late last year at 110 Commonwealth Ave., in a space formerly inhabited by a gift and clothing shop.
The venue is perfect, said Rubinstein, and not only because businesses in the village benefit from a robust flow of foot traffic. “It’s an old Victorian house with a beautiful front porch, which is a huge asset: You can enjoy your ice cream and still be connected to what’s happening on the street.’’
The survey results not withstanding, Rubinstein put a lot of thought into what customers might want. Concord has a notably fitness-oriented culture, and he wondered whether locals would really buy ice cream on a regular basis. To counter this concern, he learned to make low-fat and no-fat frozen yogurts and sorbets. He also ensured that his menu accommodated special dietary concerns, including lactose intolerance, nut allergies, and diabetes.
Rubinstein estimates that he has created 100 flavors since starting the process, although his dairy case can fit only 28 varieties at any one time. He makes a point of listening to customers and accepting their requests as a challenge.
“Last week, a woman asked for peach frozen yogurt; if she comes back this week she’ll see it in our case,’’ he said. When another customer asked about cinnamon ice cream, Rubinstein paid a visit to his retail neighbor, Debra Stark at Debra’s Natural Gourmet, who introduced him to an intensely flavored Vietnamese variety of the spice.
Another West Concord colleague who has made a mark on the menu is the proprietor of West Concord Liquors. One day while Rubinstein was shopping for rum to make rum raisin ice cream, Joe Saia introduced him to Cabin Fever, a whiskey distilled in New Hampshire, and Rubinstein created a new flavor around the discovery.
Rubinstein considers it a goal to incorporate local flavors and products whenever possible: He recently designed a recipe that uses maple syrup made in West Concord, and he buys his cream from a dairy in Attleboro. The coffee that he uses both as a beverage and an ingredient is from Karma Coffee Roasters in Sudbury.
Rubinstein knows the initial wave of enthusiasm for his wares might taper off a bit: Summer is, after all, prime ice cream season, and he is uncertain about how business will be in the cooler months. But he went to a cake-decorating class at Minuteman Career & Technical High School so that he could tap into the ice cream cake business.
He hopes that the next phase for his shop is to become a venue for art exhibitions, live music and multigenerational game nights that would draw in an evening crowd, since it is one of the very few businesses open after dark in West Concord. He also invested in crepe-making equipment, which arrived just last week, as another way to entice customers.
Anne Irza-Leggat, who has lived in West Concord for a decade, said she welcomes the addition to the village.
“One of the things I love about living in West Concord is that I can walk to so many places,’’ she said. “My children are not equally enthusiastic about walking, but I never have to convince them to walk to Reasons To Be Cheerful! Perhaps this will be my chance to develop a walking habit in them.’’
Her son James, 10, has been an enthusiastic fan since the store opened, and he’s excited by the news that the menu is expanding. “I love their homemade ice cream and I can’t wait for the crepes!’’ he said.
“So far, everything about this has exceeded my expectations,’’ Rubinstein said. “It’s exhausting but exciting. The joy I feel going into work every day makes me pinch myself. My staff and I just made our one thousandth cup of ice cream. That was a very exciting moment, and definitely a cause for celebration.’’
Accordingly, in the spirit of celebration, they all had ice cream sundaes.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@ msn.com.