Ice cream lovers throughout Denver know that Bonnie Brae Ice Cream has been much more than a neighborhood business since it opened in 1986. The ice cream shop is as much of a destination as the finest dining room or downtown hot spot. Any day of the week, regardless of the weather, there's likely to be a line out the door at the corner of South University Boulevard and East Ohio Avenue.
That was the case until mid-March, when co-owners Bob and Cindy Pailet, along with their business partners Judy and Ken Simon, decided to close because of health concerns as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. "We closed on March 15, just before we were required to, because it just wasn't safe," Bob Pailet explains.
The owners took a few weeks to make sure their staff was healthy and to figure out a way to reopen safely, and last week they launched a slightly different version of Bonnie Brae Ice Cream — and it's a no-cone zone for now. To limit the amount of food handling and reduce individual interactions, the shop is only selling ice cream by the half-pint, pint and quart, along with ice cream cakes (available blank or decorated with "Happy Birthday," so no customizations until further notice), wrapped ice cream sandwiches, eggs, butter, milk and cottage cheese. The new concept feels more like a neighborhood dairy than an old-fashioned soda fountain, but it's keeping Washington Park and Bonnie Brae satisfied with eleven classic and rotating flavors of ice cream, plus two vegan flavors. In mid-May, dog-treat ice cream sandwiches will be added for the pooches.
"We really don't eat a lot of ice cream ourselves," Cindy notes, "but Bob has really been enjoying the ice cream sandwiches. They're chocolate chip cookies with vanilla or chocolate chip ice cream."
The other main difference is that Bonnie Brae Ice Cream is only offering walk-up service for now. Bob explains that they were able to cut a panel out of one window and fit it with a service counter, and they also placed a wheeled checkout stand at the front door, with a plexiglass divider that maintains some separation between employees and customers. "The foremost thing is the safety of our public and our staff," the owner adds.
Part of reopening the business involved coming up with an employment agreement form to train employees on health and safety procedures. "It has eleven points, and we're glad to share it with any other restaurants if they want it," Bob notes, adding that the shop's general manager, Kerry Dougherty, who has worked at Bonnie Brae for twenty years, has taken the time to go over the agreement with each employee before they sign the form. Among the new safety measures are a daily temperature log and face masks that Cindy made herself for all the employees.
The Pailets don't expect to be able to fully reopen anytime soon, since the ice cream shop is tiny and quickly becomes packed with customers on busy days (which are nearly every day). "Who knows how long it will be, but we think it will be many months," Bob says.
Ultimately though, the owners plan to bring back Bonnie Brae Ice Cream in its full glory for the neighborhood and all of Denver. After all, concludes Bob, "this is a place to feel happier when you leave than when you walked in."
Bonnie Brae Ice cream is now open for walk-up orders from 1 to 8 p.m. daily at 799 South University Boulevard. Call 303-777-0808 for additional details.