MARION — Children and their parents have been lining up at the Freeze since the summer Apollo 11 went to the moon. Some of those kids are still lining up for cones, shakes and other frozen treats with their children and grandchildren as they observe the moon landing’s 50th anniversary.
“It’s a feel-good business,” owner John Humphries said one morning as he prepared for the Freeze’s opening. “We like to deliver a good experience, with good pricing and quality.”
Humphries owned the local Val-Pak coupon-mailer franchise and continues to own and operate Right at Home, an in-home senior care service. He and his wife, Stephanie, heard the summertime institution on Marion’s south side was for sale.
“We had been customers here, my family,” Humphries said. “I was transitioning out of what I was doing.”
The Humphries liked the Freeze’s ties to its neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t necessarily have opened a new ice cream shop, but we like that it’s been here,” he said. “It’s just the community aspect, being able to support the schools and different organizations. We just wanted to give back, and it’s a good fit from that standpoint.”
Previous owner Scott Warrick agreed to stay on for a time.
“Not too bad, really,” is Humphries’ assessment of the transition. “We had to invest in some new equipment. For me, (the new factor) is just inventory, making sure we don’t run out of stuff.”
The traditional March 1 opening-day weather this year may have been a stretch, though — or it may have lived up to The Freeze’s name.
“I think it was minus-10,” Humphries recalled.
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Opened as a Tastee Freeze franchise, the Freeze went independent about 2000. Over the years the menu has included burgers, hot dogs, fries and other fast-food, but it’s currently strictly frozen fare.
“We get people asking about that, but for now it’s all ice cream,” Humphries said. “Maybe next year we’ll expand, but for now we don’t want to make too many changes.”
Ice cream sandwiches, Igloo Bars and other frozen novelties are all made in-house.
“We make all that from scratch,” Humphries said. “It’s not prepackaged.”
The sale included the ice cream truck Warrick added to the business a few years ago. It’s available for parties and corporate events, and Humphries takes it to Lowe Park movie nights and other community gatherings.
About a dozen employees, most high-school aged, staff the two walk-up windows and the drive-up.
“I have one parent who helps out during the day, and I have one teacher who helps out during the summer,” Humphries said. “But the kids are doing really good.”
Humphries estimates business is about evenly split between the drive-up and walk-up windows.
“Weather drives it,” he said. “On nice evenings like last night, the patio was completely full, which was nice.”
There’s not much room in the building’s small front room where orders are taken and filled.
“Three, maybe four, is about the limit,” Humphries said. “But the volume we get, we can usually handle that.”
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The glass-walled room can get uncomfortable on hot days, but Humphries has no plans to install sun shades or blinds.
“The kids love watching us at the window,” he said. “It’s part of the experience of coming here.”
The Freeze continues to draw regulars from its neighborhood of middle-class homes, small businesses and apartment buildings, all within walking distance. Three young customers were waiting at the window at its 11 a.m. opening one morning this past week.
“It’s a good neighborhood,” Humphries said. “We’ll get people who tell us, ‘We came here when were kids, and that was a long time ago.’”
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At a glance
• Owner: John Humphries
• Business: The Freeze
• Address: 915 S. 11th St., Marion
• Phone: (319) 377-1627
• Website: facebook.com/themarionfreeze