Openings and Closings

Charlie's Ice Cream Social will soon serve soft-serve on West 44th Avenue

Matt and Rosemary Lopez have owned Taza de Cafe on 44th Avenue for six years, where they've hawked a variety of coffee-based treats -- including a horchatte, a latte made with horchata. Two years ago, they started thinking about adding another business to their portfolio, and they began looking around for a location that might work as an ice cream shop.

"My wife has a crazy sweet tooth and ever since she was a little girl, she's wanted to open an ice cream shop," Matt explains. "I was skeptical, but I started seeing the popularity of the local spots year-round and I said, 'Why not?' We have 300 days of sunshine a year here. People go to ice cream shops in the winter."

The couple finally got the opportunity to make good on the plan when My Sweet Bakery closed on February 1, leaving the space next to the cafe vacant. "We jumped at it," says Matt. "We started the renovation last month."

The pair is building out Charlie's Ice Cream Social, a soft-serve ice cream parlor that Matt describes as "'30s and '40s inspired. It's not like Gunther Toody's; we're about ten or twenty years before that. It's a little more industrial, but still bright and fun."

The base of the operation is a three-flavor soft-serve ice cream machine, which will allow the couple to serve chocolate, vanilla and a monthly flavor (mint and pumpkin spice, for example). But the Lopezes will also use syrups and mix-ins to vastly broaden what they can serve. "We'll have toasted marshmallow syrup, for instance," Matt explains. "So you can get s'more ice cream: toasted marshmallow syrup in your chocolate ice cream with graham cracker bits and chocolate chunks mixed in."

Other possibilities include the Rise and Shine, made with maple syrup and actual bacon in vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and a combination of French toast and maple butter in ice cream that Matt says tastes like cinnamon toast crunch. The parlor will keep a set menu of flavor combinations, but the owners say they'll happily create whatever customers can come up with -- and maybe name permanent menu items after particularly good mixes. "It's like being Willy Wonka," Matt says. "It's a blast."

In addition to those concoctions -- which are called twisters -- Charlie's will serve up ice cream sodas, dipped cones and ice cream sandwiches. The shop plans to source its ice cream from the local Robinson's Dairy and obtain its mix-ins from local sources, too.

As for the name, Matt says there is a Charlie -- and there isn't. "I tried to encourage my cousin to open an ice cream shop when he wanted to open a bar," he explains. "His name is CJ, but his first name is Charles. He said, 'No, it's not my thing.' As we progressed toward our shop, I decided to use the name Charlie because it sounds like the local Good Humor ice cream man of the '30's and '40's."

Charlie's should be ready by the first week of May, and the Lopezes plan to hold a grand opening party. "We're working out the details of having an Andrews Sisters cover group sing at the party," says Matt, which would create a suitable boogie woogie vibe.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk

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