Cooking up change at Maple Tree Place (4/2/09)

April 2, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The town where Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield make their home no longer has its own scoop shop. The ice cream store located at the corner of Boxwood Street and Connor Way in Maple Tree Place quietly closed its doors Sunday afternoon.

While Ben & Jerry’s is no longer, it wasn’t the only food vendor at the mall announcing changes. Belle’s Café recently transferred ownership, and T.J’s Dawg House — which last month was preparing to leave Maple Tree Place — will stick around for at least one more year.

Williston loses its Ben & Jerry’s

With little warning, Ben & Jerry’s disappeared literally overnight between Sunday and Monday. By Monday morning, the windows were covered up and the ice cream shop’s sign had been taken off the front façade.

Sean Greenwood, the company’s public relations manager, said Ben & Jerry’s was looking at the best way to manage its resources in the Champlain Valley while cutting back in the current economy. Even with warmer months approaching, Greenwood said now was considered the best time to fold the store.

Greenwood also said Ben & Jerry’s, which has scoop shop franchises around the world, will continue to maintain its social activism even as the cost of doing so has become increasingly difficult in recent months.

“We don’t want to stop that,” Greenwood said. “It makes it an added to challenge to operate in that way.”

The choice ultimately came down to closing a shop or cutting back on the activism — the Williston location didn’t make the cut. Greenwood said he was unaware of other stores in Vermont and across the country that might be closing due to similar circumstances. He said Williston residents still have nearby Ben & Jerry’s shops in Burlington, South Burlington and Waterbury.

The Williston location had one full-time employee who has been retained by the company, Greenwood said. Part-time employees have been encouraged to work at other scoop shops in the valley, he added.

New owner at Belle’s Café

Last week, the popular breakfast and lunch shop, Belle’s Café on Connor Way, changed hands. Owner Yvonne Brown sold the company to Ed Dickles, a former New York and Florida restaurateur.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Ed Dickles, the new owner of Belle’s Cafe in Maple Tree Place, stands at the counter during the lunchtime hour on Monday.

Dickles said he plans to make only a few “subtle changes” at Belle’s. He’s looking at switching to Boar’s Head deli meats from the current Mackenzie meats the café uses. He also wants to extend business hours to Sundays and into the early evening.

“I think the public will like the little changes,” Dickles said.

Dickles, who grew up in rural New York, previously owned a 24-hour bagel shop in Oswego, N.Y. on the shore of Lake Ontario. He moved to Florida and owned a pizzeria for several years before returning to the Northeast.

“I wanted to come and get back to my humble roots,” Dickles said. “It’s good to be back up here in the northern territories.”

Brown, who owns Nadeau’s Playschool on Marshall Avenue, sold Belle’s to focus on the daycare facility, Dickles said. Belle’s Café will be Dickles’ only business and he’s looking forward to making it grow.

BACK TO WORK for T.J.’s Dawg House

After nearly removing T.J.’s Dawg House from Maple Tree Place a month ago because of a disagreement over rent, owner T.J. Chelak said his business will remain at the mall for at least another year. Chelak said he and Inland U.S. Management, the owners of the property, have reached a one-year lease agreement.

“I worked too hard not to go at least one more year here at Maple Tree Place,” Chelak said.

The vendor said he agreed to a nine-month rent contract for $4,300 — a 20 percent hike in cost compared to the past two years. Chelak considers it a victory after refusing Inland’s initial offer of more than $5,000 for nine months.

Chelak, who sells Chicago-style Vienna Beef hot dogs out of his cart, said the customers he’s spoken with are relieved and happy to hear he’s sticking around. He heard rumors that Best Buy employees cheered when the news broke last week.

The lease expires at the end of 2009. Chelak said he’s considering a move to Burlington, but not necessarily to the Church Street Marketplace.

“Really, it would be anywhere they’d want to put me,” Chelak said.

T.J.’s Dawg House opened its 2009 season on April 1. The hot dog cart is located between Best Buy and Christmas Tree Shops and is scheduled to be open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.