You might say the owners of Slickers Ice Cream are optimistic – an admirable quality but one that doesn’t always lead to success. Like that first time they visited Prince Edward County to see what the buzz was about and go camping at Sandbanks. On Labour Day weekend. Without a reservation. Peter Pesic and Ann Kitzler tell us how they came to be running the famous Slickers.
Peter: “Okay, like many newcomers who first visit here, we headed to the Sandbanks on a Saturday in August looking to camp. Needless to say Sandbanks was packed out, so we drove down Salmon Point Rd., to Quinte’s Isle Camp Park. They directed us to the back of the property and it looked just like the Dominican Republic! We fell in love with The County right there and just kept coming back, and, yes, we went to Slickers each time we came. Their apple pie ice cream was my favorite.
On one visit we were sitting on a porch with friends enjoying a barbecue, and they told us there was a business for sale. It was Slickers. Anne kicked me under the table. We were both excited. We immediately contacted the ladies who owned it (Pat Hacker and Marie Frye who created Slickers in 1997,) and the rest is history.
Anne had been in retail all her life, she’s had her own shop and worked in stores in Woodbridge and Maple, north of Toronto. I (Peter) was semi-retired after 30 years in the art poster business, and we were ready for something new. We’d fallen for The County and were working towards moving here, actively looking for a business. But we had never even thought about ice cream.
We used to stay in Wellington, at Rick Conroy’s Newsroom Suites, which is a great place, very funky, and we’d go to the Wellington Grill for breakfast. When it came up for sale we looked at it dozens of times. Now it’s Pomodoro, Kim and David have done a great job, but we didn’t think we were up for that. This was six years ago, before the Drake Devonshire. We looked at buildings and businesses in Picton, too. We considered starting a business of our own, we would have eventually come up with something, then Slickers came up, and we thought ‘what a great match’.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
We wanted to keep all the things that were good about it, but we did make a lot of changes – like building a dairy! We had to build a proper dairy to meet OMAFRA specifications. We revamped the recipes, they were good recipes, the business had good bones, good DNA, but, well, people talk about passion, but I like dedication. We are dedicated flavor hounds, and we kept trying to improve things.
Since we bought it, the wholesale side has increased considerably, and we are opening a second location in Picton, right beside the post office. It’s about 1,100 sq ft, so we can seat 25-30 people and be more handicap accessible. In our little place in Bloomfield – Anne calls it The Nubbins, I call it more the shack – it’s not easy to accommodate handicapped customers or even baby strollers. We’ll be more family friendly in the new place. We’re keeping The Nubbins of course. We’ll expand the menu, too, with ice cream cookies, ice cream sandwiches, ice cream tacos! We can reform the waffle cone into a taco. We saw an ice cream panini machine at a trade show but there was no way it would fit in The Nubbins. It WILL fit in the new place.”
Anne: “We’ll be hiring more people. We usually have about 5 or 6 girls, this year we have 10 and another employee down at the dairy, so there’s four or five of us down there, now. Plus a local lady does baking for us, so that’s new and we’ll employ her now, too.
Our wholesale market goes as far as Perth and Gananoque, we have outlets in Collingwood, Algonquin Park and Kingston. We have different accounts, some are scoop shops and some are “litre tub” accounts, stores that sell our product. We’re in gourmet food shops, like the Common Market. Ice cream is seasonal. Well, ours is because we make it seasonal by closing, but we might stay open longer now, keep employees on for longer.”
WHY IS IT SO GOOD!!??
PETER: “It’s our small batches that make Slickers unique. Mainstream producers use equipment classified as Continuous and they fill million gallon stainless steel towers. When they start they don’t stop until their daily quota is done, and that doesn’t allow for artisanal application of ingredients. It’s like the difference between making a pie at home or buying one from an industrial kitchen. At Slickers, we make two pails of a flavour at a time, and then start all over again!
We use local ingredients, apples from our friend Linda in South Bay, Brummels maple syrup and honey from Hogans Apiaries and Honey Pie Hives. All our friends seem to grow rhubarb, so we’re okay there! And I pick wild blackberries for our black cap ice cream, which is stunning and delicious. I pick as many as I can and we freeze them. We bake a pie from scratch to go into a batch, we make the brownies and butter tarts, we even praline, we take pecans and butter them and cover them with burnt sugar.” Anne interrupts: It’s not burnt sugar!
“Oh, okay, well, we make the praline ourselves. All the ingredients are clean, no preservatives, no food dyes, all natural, not like commercial soft ice cream – which incidentally is not really ice cream at all, it’s not even really frozen.”
Anne: “When we first make it our ice cream is soft, and it’s absolutely fantastic! The mango especially. We think, oh, if we could sell this as a soft cone it would be amazing, but it’s not technologically possible. You can’t make natural Slickers ice cream come out of a soft ice cream machine.”
Peter: “That’s why it costs more, we’re selling to a different market than the $1.99 soft cones, and the price takes the public by surprise sometimes, because they haven’t been initiated in it. How long have gourmet coffee and lattes and all that been available? Starbucks has been around since 1975 or whatever, so people have had a long time to absorb lattes and things and get used to the price difference.
Looking ahead we’re excited about the second location, we were looking at that spot in Picton for quite a while, and now, of course, it’s going to be close to the new Royal Hotel – which will be great for us.”
So – Peter and Anne might once have been naïve campers, but their optimism and drive have served them well as owners of an iconic County business.
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