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Cold Comfort

LICKS ICE CREAM has been cooling off customers for 20 years

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A large '50s-themed mural that suits the oldies music.

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A large '50s-themed mural that suits the oldies music.

Licks Ice Cream Patio at 20 Britannica Rd. is marking an important milestone with some new menu items.

"Every season we try to add something new to the mix, and this year that includes Belgian-chocolate sundaes, Butterfinger flurries and bubblegum shakes," says Warren McLean, who purchased Licks in 2003 after a long career in the banking industry.

Licks is a 900-square-foot charmer that, with its lunch-counter seating, homemade waffle cones and oldies tunes, has the look, smell and feel of a scene straight out of American Graffiti. Licks turns 20 this summer -- an achievement that isn't lost on its fourth owner.

"We get so many people through the doors telling us this is where they came for their first cone or shake, ever," says McLean, who was already familiar with the locale when it hit the market 11 years ago, thanks to a soft spot for strawberry sundaes. "But what's even more rewarding is a lot of those same people are now coming in with kids of their own to buy them their first cone, too."

Jason Teetaert was an engineering student at the University of Manitoba in 1994 when he spotted a classified ad reading "Ice cream shop manager wanted." Teetaert is a Deloraine native who was living on Beliveau Road at the time. His only experience with ice cream back then was "eating it."

"Licks was started by Darrell and Linda Lynds, who lived just past the Perimeter on south St. Mary's Road," says Teetaert, when reached at home in Vancouver. "Darrell was an entrepreneur and basically, he and his wife wanted to open an old-fashioned, neighbourhood ice cream shop -- the sort of place families in the area could walk or bike to after supper."

Teetaert managed Licks for six seasons before buying it from the Lyndses in 2000. He's now the vice-president of a firm that manufactures moisture-detection systems for homes and businesses, but hardly a week goes by, Teetaert says, when he doesn't draw on his days at Licks to solve one problem or another.

"Above all else, service with a smile," he says when asked for an example. "People joke how our clients deal with us because we're always smiling but seriously, a little thing like (a smile) goes a long way, whether you're selling $1 cones or $100,000 monitoring units."

The law of supply and demand was another important lesson Teetaert learned during his tenure at Licks.

"You might think you could sell more ice cream in a place like Florida or Vancouver, where you can stay open all year. But there's a good reason 7-Elevens in Winnipeg sell more Slurpees per capita than any other 'Sevs' on the planet," Teetaert says. "When you have winters as long and harsh as Winnipeg's, there is a pent-up demand for things like Slurpees and milkshakes when the temperatures finally climb into the pluses.

"I swear, any time we got a day in March or April when it was sunny and 10 or 15 above, we were almost guaranteed to have lineups out the door."

Teetaert also recalls a few sweltering long weekends when demand was so high that by Sunday, his tubs of ice cream were nearly empty. The good thing was most of the independent ice cream shop owners knew each other back then. So it wasn't uncommon, he explains, to call BDI or Sargent Sundae, or vice versa, to see if they had anything extra in the cooler.

Teetaert popped into Licks with his two young children last summer when he was in Winnipeg visiting friends and family. After finding a place to sit on the outdoor patio, he turned to his kids and said, "You know, Dad used to own this place.

"They both stopped eating and looked at me like I was nuts, as if to say, 'And you sold it?!' "

McLean took over Licks on April 1, 2003, after buying the business from its third owner, who was only around for one summer.

"I inherited the staff but aside from that, I was pretty much thrown to the wolves," McLean says. "For the first month or so, there were a lot of pretty ugly ice cream cones going out of here, that's for sure."

One thing McLean did after taking over was commission an artist to design a wall-sized mural he hoped would further evoke the '50s feel of the place. The painting, all leather jackets and poodle skirts, has since become almost as popular a draw as the parlour's peanut butter parfaits and cotton candy milkshakes.

Last week, Grade 12 students sporting suits and gowns made a special pit stop at Licks to get their pictures taken in front of the mural before they headed off to their various grad ceremonies. McLean says it's also fairly common for wedding parties to pop in on their way to the church, to snap shots of the happy couple at the scene of their first date.

Not unlike a good bartender or waitress at a greasy spoon, McLean knows his regulars more by order than by name. There's the one lady, he says, who always gets a banana flurry with a squirt of hot caramel "and pecans on top." Or the gentleman who treats himself to a black licorice milkshake at least three times a week on his way home from work.

"If I spot him pulling into the parking lot, I can usually have his shake ready before he's even through the door," McLean says.

While most of McLean's customers live nearby, there are some who trek over from as far away as Niverville, St. Adolphe and Charleswood.

"I get a lot of comments from people who say they wish there was a place like this in their neighbourhood, or 'Why don't you open a second location in Sage Creek or Island Lakes?' " McLean says. "But for the time being, I'm not interested in expanding. In order for a business like this to work, you have to be hands-on, I find."

McLean said he wishes he had a nickel for every time he's heard somebody tell him it must be nice to have his winters off. (Licks generally opens for the season in mid-March and closes just after Thanksgiving.)

"What they don't get is, I'm here seven days a week, for seven months in a row," he says. "So by the end of October, after I've done all my books and cleaned all my equipment one last time, I'm more than ready to go and have my 'summer' someplace else."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2014 0

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