Every day, a man named Leo and his friend play basketball at the playground across the street from North Street Dairy Cone as a means to stay sober.
“I respect that, so I give them a slushie on the house,” store owner Mike Sholz said. “That’s the way things have always been here – a place dedicated to improving people’s lives through ice cream. No matter who they are.”
Sholz became owner of the iconic institution last spring when, after six decades of ownership, the Gagnon family retired from the ice cream business. But he prefers not to be called the owner of Dairy Cone.
“I’m merely its steward,” Sholz said. “This place is much bigger than me.”
Dairy Cone’s genesis was in 1941 when Roy Gagnon constructed the building the business currently uses for a creamery. Nearby farmers would come to the two windows at the front with milk, and Gagnon would homogenize it, bottle it, and deliver the product to nearby camps.
Two decades later, Gagnon decided to try his hand at ice cream making. Since then, not much has changed. The recipes remain unaltered, now yellowed by age. The ice cream machine is older than the owner, and the business remains a small operation, with only two windows to service customers.
Dairy Cone has become synonymous with the essence of the Waterville community, providing mill workers and college students alike with quality ice cream at a fair price.
“When I came to Dairy Cone as a kid, it was when they were still running logs down the river and you could hear the mills humming,” Sholz said. “Colby hadn’t built like they have. And Dairy Cone has seen it all, positioned here on North Street, a mile from the Ville and a mile from the Hill.”
For Sholz, coming into the business gave him a new perspective on the relationship between Waterville and the College.
“I see Colby students and people who live in town come here grumpy and leave happy,” Sholz said. “I see professors taking their students here, I see local kids doing math in their head about how many scoops they can buy with their allowance money. I see community.”
But because Dairy Cone is predicated on a transaction, Sholz believes that Colby can become closer to the Waterville community through earnest engagement.
“Meet someone not from Colby. Have a chance encounter. Get in a scrap. Things necessary to building communities,” Sholz said.
According to Sholz, the College has recently done a better job of valuing Waterville.
“There’s only so much hill,” Sholz said. “It’s so nice to see y’all running by the river and living downtown,” Sholz said. “It’s getting better, but don’t hesitate to engage with Waterville outside of Colby’s initiatives.”
In this time of transformation for the Waterville-Colby community, Dairy Cone’s mission is the same as it has been since the Mayflower Hill Campus was opened and the mills were still open: “Make quality ice cream not because it’s easy, but because it’s the best.”
“Whether you’re out of work or just got tenure, we’re all the same,” Sholz said. “You recognize really good food – well made by someone who cares about it.”
~ Wilson Bailey `27