New Era at Dairy Twirl
Lebanon Ice Cream Icon Has New Owners
Cinnamon Decato-Murray, of Lebanon, right, purchased the Dairy Twirl ice cream stand from Roger Duhaime, of Lebanon, left, who ran the business for 38 years in Lebanon, Aug. 2, 2013. "I want to be able to pass it down to her (Decato-Murray's daughter Sage Murray, 6, middle) and have it go on like that forever," said Cinnamon Decato-Murray. "I'm glad that a family took it over," said Duhaime. "That's what I wanted - someone like them to come in and keep it going." (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Roger Duhaime stands in the Dairy Twirl after he took over the business from his parents, in an undated photograph. (Courtesy photograph)
Lebanon — After 38 seasons, a summer institution that draws ice cream lovers from throughout the Upper Valley is changing hands.
And the new owners of the Dairy Twirl on Mechanic Street say the only difference that customers will notice is that Roger Duhaime will not be behind the counter.
After almost four decades of working 15-hour days, seven days a week, Duhaime plans to be spending his future summer months hitting a golf ball around the links and spending more time at his home in Edgewater, Fla.
“When it’s time to leave, you know it, and I think it’s time for me to do something else,” Duhaime said last week.
For Duhaime, there’s a retirement party, of sorts, planned for today — music, a live radio broadcast, 1975 ice cream prices — from noon to 4 at Dairy Twirl. The event will give long-time customers a chance to drop by, wish him well and to say thanks for his service to the community, new owner Cinnamon Murray said last week.
On July 18, Murray and her husband, Brent, bought the ice cream store and the two-story building that once housed the Duhaime family oil business and served as Duhaime’s parents’ home for a while.
This isn’t the Lebanon couple’s first retail venture. They owned the Verizon store beside Shaw’s in the Upper Valley Plaza in West Lebanon, another store in Claremont and a couple in Maine.
Even with their experience, they don’t expect running Dairy Twirl to be a cakewalk. Duhaime has been showing them the ropes for the last two weeks — arriving at 6 a.m. to clean up and get everything ready for the day and staying until 9 p.m., sometimes 10, after the last of the customers leave to close things down, every day from May to September.
“One thing I noticed is that Roger is constantly moving,” Brent Murray said.
“I put a pedometer on his belt. He walked 4.9 miles during the day. When he retires, he’s going to have to start exercising to make up for the miles he walks in here.”
Even with the added workload of the new business, the Murrays will do fine, said Karleen Wood, Duhaime’s long-time companion, who pulls shifts helping out at the ice cream store.
“They’re young, and they have plenty of help.”
Dairy Twirl, which is a small operation by any description — a couple of service windows with concrete steps leading up to them, a sign and a parking lot with a few picnic tables out back — has a loyal customer base. The business has done well under Duhaime, and he’s made a living out of it, well enough to spend much of the rest of the year at his home in Florida.
“I’ve made a pretty good living here, but it’s been long days, and I’d like to take a little time off in the summer. I’ve met a lot of great people. Some of them have become friends, and I pretty much know all of them by name. But it’s time for someone younger than me to take over,” said Duhaime, who is 71.
“Just sort of for fun,” Duhaime’s father and mother started Dairy Twirl by putting a couple of ice cream service windows in the side of the building that housed Pete & Rogers Oil Co.
“He’d been thinking about it for a while, but one day, he just put in the windows bought some soft service (ice cream) machines, and he was in business,” Duhaime said.
The heating oil business is slow in the summer, so ice cream worked well for producing extra revenue for the family during the hot months.
“When I took over, my father gave me one piece of advice. He said, ‘Make it better than I did,’ and that’s what I’ve tried to do,” Duhaime said.
Like many small local businesses, Duhaime has made an effort to be part of the community, by sponsoring Little League teams, giving to the schools’ reading program reward coupons for free ice cream and contributing to other community efforts, Wood said.
“He’s done a lot for the community, and he’s always done it,” she said, adding that she started coming to Dairy Twirl decades ago.
“We have five generations of families coming here year after year. People who don’t live here but come back to Lebanon to visit and have to go to Dairy Twirl,” she said.
“It’s a right of passage to go to Dairy Twirl for anyone who lives in that part of Lebanon,” said Duhaime’s daughter, Kathy O’Connor. “It’s a ritual for a lot of families who have been going there for years.
For many, the business marks the season. “When it opened on Mother’s Day, it was the beginning of summer. When it closed on Labor Day, it was the end of summer,” O’Connor said.
There are not any major changes planned for the business, Cinnamon Murray said.
“We’re not changing the name. We might expand the season by opening a little earlier and staying open into October. We’re going to do some things like having a flavor of the week, and we’re thinking about having a doggie cone. A lot of people walk up here in the evenings when they’re walking their dogs. We want to have something for the dogs,” she said.
Last week, Murray started offering additions to the ice cream — sprinkles, Oreo pieces, etc.
In fact, that’s what Michelle Day was trying on Wednesday, the first day of the change. Day, who lives in White River Junction, had stopped by with a friend and her mother, Betty Day, of Windsor.
“We always stop here when we’re in town. We’ve been doing it for years,” Betty Day said.
And the addition to the ice cream? “It’s really good, sort of like s’mores,” Michelle Day said.
Murray moved to Lebanon when she was 15 after her parents completed a tour in the Air Force and returned to their hometown. Before that, she went to Dairy Twirl with her grandmother during summer visits.
“I remember saying to her when I was a little girl that if this place ever comes up for sale, I want to buy it. And now, I have. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time.
“This has been a family business since it started. We’re going to keep it that way. I want my daughter to take it over when we retire,” Murray said.
Duhaime said he had one piece of advice for the Murrays.
“I told them to make it better than I did, and I think they’re going to do that.”
Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3216.