HAMILTON, Ohio — Date nights in Hamilton just got a whole lot sweeter. The city's newest business serves up ice cream, double-dip sodas, sundaes and more from a historic corner spot along Main Street — and, so far, it seems, the community is in love.
The Village Parlor, an old-fashioned ice cream shop with a 50-year history in Lebanon, opened its second location in January following a nearly two-year recruitment campaign by city officials. Despite a constant barrage of wet winter weather, it's seen capacity crowds.
Owner Aaron Zwelling said that's because it offers up perfect post-dinner treats. It doesn't hurt that the building, located in the Rossville Historic District, at the corner of Main and D Street, also oozes charm. There's the original tin ceiling from the early 1900s and refurbished character pieces, like the bar and stools.
"They (the city) had a fantastic location, with history and character, and that really attracted us," Zwelling said.
Hughes Pharmacy, the building's former occupant, had an ice cream parlor there for many decades, he said, "which was very common in the '30s, '40s, '50s, and we thought that was a really neat story to re-tell."
Zwelling and his wife bought the original Village Parlor in Lebanon, which opened in 1969, over four years ago. Zwelling also has a long history in ice cream and jumped at the opportunity to run his own business, he said. For 20 years prior, he worked for Graeter's, most recently as a district manager in Cincinnati, helping to open new stores in Deerfield, West Chester and Fountain Square.
It was always part of the plan to open other Village Parlors.
"It just took the City of Hamilton to really push us," he said.
The effort seems to have paid off, said Jeff Archiable, communication strategist for the Hamilton Vision Commission. There's been a steady buzz since the Parlor opened, and several people have referred to it as their "happy place," he said.
"Ice cream's very universal," Zwelling said. "We see a lot of folks, certainly at night, who've been to dinner and come afterward for a great dessert. You can watch our team make waffle cones, and a lot of people find that fascinating. If you get within 10 feet of the front door, you're immediately overwhelmed by the smell of fresh vanilla from those cones being made. It's just a neat place to hang out."
The Village Parlor serves Johnson's Real Ice Cream, a Columbus brand born in the 1950s, which outfits the shop with more than two dozen "interesting and different flavors," Zwelling said, or "flavors you don’t find everywhere else." Favorites include salted caramel choco pretzel, banana fudge and lemon.
"It's a big variety. Flavors you just don't see anymore," Zwelling said. "A lot of people seek us out because we have lemon, which is actually really hard to make. We have great flavors for kids, like cotton candy ice cream, or birthday cake ice cream that we carry year-round. We have other classic flavors like coconut almond chip and rum raisin -- and you can't find rum raisin anywhere. Again, I think that really matches up with what we do in terms of being more old school."
The Village Parlor also offers signature sundaes. The brownie sundae has proved a top seller in Hamilton, and the menu includes Zwelling's personal favorite, the caramel banana sundae, which is banana fudge ice cream topped with fresh banana, hot caramel, whipped cream, and crisp, salty pecans. There are also double-dip sodas, milk shakes and malts.
Zwelling has no immediate plans to add food — the Village Parlor in Lebanon cooks lunch and dinner — although that could happen down the road.
For now, ice cream's tops, and Zwelling is already mentally preparing for a busy spring and summer.
"If the first three or four weeks are any indication, I would anticipate a line out the door every day," Zwelling said. "We'll be putting a bunch of seating outside, and we would very much like to create a scene on that corner of the block, because it's a good vibe. It's good for the city. I think it's going to be really good and hectic, and we're ready for it."