A cool, sweet treat: Summer packs them in at area ice cream stands

Garrett Thomas, 12, of Winchester, enjoys his ice cream at the Packs 522 North location in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

When summer comes, ice cream lovers flock to their favorite roadside stands.

And a pair of Pack’s Cones-N-More soft ice cream shops on Routes 50 and 522 west of Winchester’s city limits have created a steady stream of habitual customers over the past decade.

Twice a week, Randy Emerick, 54, makes it a habit on his way home to Slanesville, West Virginia, from his job as a technical representative at Winchester’s O’Sullivan Films to stop and get a chocolate hot fudge milkshake.

“They have the best one,” he said.

And while the store on U.S. 50 (2580 Northwestern Pike) attracts a local clientele, the home base on U.S. 522 (2021 North Frederick Pike) is a must stop for many who live miles away.

Melissa Barb, of Cross Junction, serves up a swirled cone at Packs on 522 North in Winchester. Barb manages the two Packs ice cream stands. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tom Camden, 68, is retired and lives outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and travels twice a year to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and the Outer Banks in North Carolina, always stopping in Winchester each way to visit Pack’s on 522.

“They have the best ice cream of anyone along the route,” he claimed, treating the couple from his church traveling with him and his wife to a taste test.

Between the two stores, owned by Susan and Terry Cofflet and Brad Omps, Susan’s brother, they have sold an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 cones, shakes, snow cones, floats, sundaes, drinks and banana splits.

It’s soft serve ice cream, no longer frozen custard.

“It’s a lot easier to scoop,” said Melissa Barb, 36, Susan’s daughter and manager along with Angela Rinker, Brad’s partner.

Evelyn and Tom Camden, of Pittsburgk, Pennsylvania, sit outside on a picnic table at Packs Ice Cream stand off U.S. 522 north of Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

While small businesses often face competition from the internet, “You can’t buy ice cream online,” laughed Barb, who has worked at the store since she was 18 years old.

Her experience helped prompt her to buy the stores from Virginia Pack in 2007.

Mrs. Pack started selling frozen custard and ice cream in the Shenandoah Valley in 1986, eventually owning nearly a dozen stores before selling them and retiring to Florida.

The store on 522 ended up next to Omps Garage in 1991 when Virginia Pack was negotiating a deal to locate the ice cream stand on the opposite side of the road. It fell through.

Mrs. Pack then asked Omps and Susan Cofflet’s mother about renting the site next to the garage, even though she was worried it wouldn’t attract people on their way home from work. She was wrong.

Luke Fasold, 14, of Annandale, works on a melting cone at Packs north of Winchester. Fasold was part of United Methodist Church youth group retreat that stopped for ice cream. Rich Cooley/Daily

Barb knew the ins and outs of making the ice cream and creating new flavors with colorful names for specially created combinations around holidays, seasons and events.

Facebook samples show Peter Cottontail at Easter; Army Strong on Memorial Day; Stormy Weather for April Showers; Chocolate Delight during National Ice Cream Month (July), and Nana Mary’s Special Strawberry Shortcake for Mother’s Day.

Combinations are seemingly endless, with a special flavor created weekly from among more than three dozen toppings and eight flavors.

New flavors have been added over the past 10 years, like Andes Mints, Cotton Candy, Nutter Butter, Gummy Worms and Flaked Coconut.

Jim Myers, 73, of Fort Ashby, West Virginia, has cancer and comes to the Winchester Medical Center with his wife Colleen, 63, once a month for treatment.

Lily England,14, of Winchester, enjoys an ice cream cone outside Packs in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

Smiling as he devoured the last of a cone, Jim Myers said, “It tastes pretty darn good to me.” His wife added, “It has nice texture and a good price.”

“We were not sure what we were getting into,” said Rinker, when they became owners.

They have learned the ropes – and the customers.

“We know what some people will order every time,” said Barb. “There is strawberry shake mom, vanilla cone man, baby swirl and banana shake lady, who wants extra banana and extra thick.”

Love for the soft serve ice cream can be fervent, like the woman in her 60s who passed away in 2014 and wanted to be buried – and was – in a “Cones-N-More” T-shirt – the brand name the owners hope to change to someday.

“Ice cream is a nutritious and wholesome food, enjoyed by over ninety percent of the people in the United States. It enjoys a reputation as the perfect dessert and snack food.” – President Ronald Reagan, July 9, 1984.

“When the sun starts setting, our lines start growing,” said Rinker. “Sundays are usually our busiest day.”

However, when it gets blistering hot, “people stay home where it is cool,” said Rinker. “Or they may come for snow cones because it is too hot for ice cream.”

“We are the only store with snow cones,” Rinker said. Some flavors have no sugar (made with Splenda) for diabetics and there are no dairy products in snow cones for those allergic to dairy products.

The best days are when temperatures in the 80s, mild humidity and plenty of sunshine. The worst days are rainy ones.

And it isn’t only humans who love the ice cream.

“People will bring their pets, like dogs and cats,” said Barb, “and we have had them come with a goat, a monkey, a ferret, and a parakeet, who nibbled the waffle cone.”

Barb said customer palates differ between the two stores with the Route 50 store patronized more often by local residents who are into apple pie and cherry flavors and fruit flavors.

Julea Mason, 16, of Frederick County and a junior at James Wood High School, prefers that location.

“I go there a lot,” she said. “The people who work there are really nice and the ice cream is really good. It’s close to where I live and cheaper.”

Customers at the 522 store are more often travelers from outside the area who tend to order sweet candy flavors.

Gene, 67, and Donna, 63, Folk, of Berryville, visit the 522 store every couple of weeks.

“It’s our treat place,” said Gene Folk, adding the retired couple has been going there for 30 years. “It’s the best ice cream in town,”

The stores partner with nonprofit organizations and community public servants, such as the police, firemen and veterans for fund raisers and support.

All 44 employees, many high school students, are trained and sign confidentiality agreements with turnover about 25 percent a year.

It can be a training ground for the real world.

“We have had girls that literally had to be trained on how to use a broom or mop,” said Barb. “We like to think they are learning life skills.”

Hours vary and are posted on Facebook with the stores open every day from the first Saturday in March to mid-October, closing only for a snow or ice storm.

But before they close, regulars buy pints and quarts to store and sample over the winter months.

(Two more Pack’s ice-cream stores still exist, one on Route 7 owned by Ms. Pack’s daughter and another in New Market, owned by a Pack family cousin.)