CHESHIRE -- The business began in a garage, but gradually grew into a tradition patronized by generations of youngsters, some of them grandparents now.
After 46 years, "Joanie’s Twin Twist Ice Cream" has made the difficult decision to close. But the owners are doing so with a ceremony designed to thank their customers for their support.
On Oct. 8, Columbus Day, Joanie’s three owners will gather at the place where it all began -- a private residence at 137 South St. -- for what they refer to as a "thank-you" get-together. Visitors can meet with owners Joan St. John, her daughter, Laurie Charon, and son-in-law, Steve, and other family members. They can even receive a final soft serve ice cream concoction free of charge. The event will take place from noon to 4 p.m.
"It’s going to be informal, which is the way my husband was," said St. John.
St. John and her late husband, Charles, founded Joan ie’s in 1966 when they converted the garage of their South Street home into an ice cream shop. Charles St. John died two years ago.
"The kids are doing it for me as a commemoration of my husband’s life, the fact that he and I started it, and it being such a big part of our lives," she said. "It’s not going to be fancy or a big thing, but I wanted it at our home because this is where the business started."
Laurie Charon, the St. John’s youngest daughter, and her husband, Steve, have run the business for the last decade, St. John said.
But Steve Charon has had medical issues, and recently began a new job that no longer allows him to work seasonally. The Charons’ children have also grown up.
"There’s no family left to work with them," St. John said. "It was time for them. It’s been hard for me because we started it a long time ago."
St. John said a "persistent salesmen" is what led her and her husband to originally enter the ice cream business almost 50 years ago.
"He was selling ice cream machines," she said. "He kept stopping at our house, and insisted that it was a good place for an ice cream business."
The couple, whose seven children were all under the age of 9 at the time, finally decided to take the salesmen up on his offer, but originally hedged their bets.
"We put the machine in on a one-year trial basis," St. John said.
"Needless to say, it was a challenge," she said. "But by the end of that summer, we knew were in business to stay."
The St. Johns did well enough that they decided to expand the business in 1967. They bought another machine that allowed them to produce their first "twist" cone, a swirl of vanilla and chocolate self-serve ice cream. St. John believes their business was the first in the area to offer twist cones. The new ice cream also caused the couple to change the business’ name from "Joanie’s Cheshire Freeze" to the current "Joanie’s Twin Twist."
In 1979, the St. Johns bought a restaurant on Route 8 diagonally across from the Cheshire Lake floodgates. They operated it as a restaurant/ice cream shop before selling the building in 1990.
"It’s too bad we couldn’t have kept it right here," St. John said, referring to the couple’s home on South Street. "The restaurant was tough. It was a lot of work."
For the past 22 years, Joanie’s has operated strictly as a mobile operation, providing concession ice cream service at fairs and other gatherings throughout the region. (They rolled out their first concession trailer in 1969 at the Cummington Fair.)
Joan said she is just beginning to come to terms with her husband’s death, and believes the good-bye ceremony will allow her to have some closure.
"I have no idea how it’s going to work out," she said, "but I know it’s going to be good."