Sam and Jessica Lamphere, father and daughter, ate soft serve while seated at a green picnic table, soaking up the sunshine on Monday afternoon in West Lebanon where temperatures hit a high of nearly 80 degrees.
“I’ve waited for this day,” Sam Lamphere said with a smile, as he ate a chocolate/vanilla twist with a chocolate dip at Ice Cream Fore-U. He had last been to the stand in October, when it was cold enough that he had to eat in his car.
Though he comes to Ice Cream Fore-U regularly during the season, Lamphere said he does not have a favorite flavor.
“I like variety,” he said. “I don’t like bored tastebuds.”
In the meantime, Jessica Lamphere ate chocolate soft serve — known to some as a creemee — with rainbow sprinkles.
You can buy a pint of hard ice cream to eat at home, she said, but “soft serve is special.”
As the snow melts and green grass pokes up through the mud, it’s time for one of the rites of spring — the first visit to a favorite ice cream stand. Many of the Upper Valley’s other soft serve windows don’t open until next month, but Ice Cream Fore-U opened on March 31.
While warm weather might seem like a prerequisite for a trip to an ice cream shop, according to Fore-U’s experience it’s not. Nice weather brings people to the Route 12A shop, but bad weather doesn’t seem to keep them away.
Ice Cream Fore-U opened in the midst of a snowstorm and customers came out anyway, said the shop’s co-owner Meredith Johnson.
“People were just ready for spring to happen,” she said through a window of the shop on Monday afternoon. “It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a snowstorm.”
Among Monday’s customers were Lebanon residents Edward and Rosalie Gilbert. It was not their first visit of the season. “April 1st was our first time,” in spite of the snow, said Edward Gilbert. “It was a long winter.”
Aside from the weather, which can be iffy this time of year, Johnson said it can be tricky to find people to work at the shop before college students come home for the summer. But Johnson, who operates Ice Cream Fore-U with her sister, Jennifer Johnson, said they have employees who come back every year. Ice Cream Fore-U is in its 19th season. It opened in 1998, before its near neighbor The Home Depot was built, she said.
Over the years they’ve extended their season, relocated (before The Home Depot’s construction the ice cream shop faced Koto Japanese Steak House; now it sits between Route 12A and The Home Depot parking lot); added a playground and non-dairy menu items, such as Rosati Ice, for those with allergies, Johnson said.
Ice Cream Fore-U’s offerings also include dishes of vanilla for dogs.
Among the dogs eating soft serve on Monday was Vidar, a Hungarian Vizsla puppy. “It’s his first ice cream here ever,” said his owner, Chelsea Johnston, of Quechee. “I don’t think he’s ever had this much ice cream at once.”
Vidar slurped up the treat, pushing the plastic cup along the ground with his nose.
Also on Monday afternoon, a trio of Lebanon High School seniors — Sophie Hammond, Kristen Anderson and Alicia Palermo — had after-school cones at Ice Cream Fore-U. Monday was the first day of their final quarter in high school.
“It’s really warm,” said Hammond, as she licked her Power Play Fudge cone. Anderson said her orange-pineapple cone was tasty, while Palermo, who said she likes to stick to the tried and true, had a chocolate/vanilla twist.
Though she said she was enjoying the sun on Monday, Hammond said weather isn’t really a factor in her ice cream consumption. This was not her first visit to Fore-U this spring.
“I came when it was raining,” she said. “I just love ice cream.”
The Upper Valley is loaded with ice cream stands. Here are a few that are soon to open:
Whippi Dip on Route 5 in Fairlee will open later this month. Then, The Wright Scoop on Route 5 in Fairlee will open in early or mid-May; White Cottage Snack Bar in Woodstock will open May 6; and Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream on Route 103 in Sunapee will open on May 12.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.