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Ridgefield Ice Cream: A taste of history

The shop on Route 7 is one of the few remaining original Carvel ice cream stands in the country. —Ben Shaw photo

If you want 50’s nostalgia in Bethel, you go to the Sycamore Restaurant. For an original ice cream stand from the 50’s,  you can go to the Ridgefield Ice Cream Store on Danbury Road.

One of the original Carvel Ice Cream outlets from 1956, this landmark store has remained literally untouched on both the outside and inside.

Felix Lechner, owner for the past 35 years, is proud that his store is an icon. “My purpose is to bring people back to the taste and times of the past,” he said. “I want them to associate past memories with their ice cream.”

Mr. Lechner was lucky to find his calling very early — at age 17. “In the 70’s I went to work in the New Milford Carvel Store for Mr. Henry Schaefer. He immediately saw in me a potential manager and began training me to take care of his Ridgefield store. Nobody could have gotten a better education in business.”

Then after two years managing the Ridgefield Carvel on the “Carvel Corner” of Route 7, as they use to call it, he decided he had enough expertise to drop the franchise and start his own business.

“The rest is history, along with my great soft serve ice cream, wonderful ice cream cakes, and rotating specialties,”  he said.

According to Mr. Lechner his customers are mostly regulars, some stopping by several times a week. “Due to the loyalty of my customers, I am open 11 to 8 p.m. daily throughout the year, unless the weather is very severe. I was even open during the recent storms as I have a generator.”

“Of course, the winter holidays are wonderful for cake sales. During January and March, Mr. Jim McHugh, my refrigeration man and relative of the original manufacturer of these machines, and I focus on maintenance.

“We still have the original soft cream machines in the store. When they made a product in the 50’s, it was made to last. In fact, these machines are what make for the special taste. No air-blown ice cream here.”

Felix Lechner puts the finishing touches on an ice cream cake — popular year round. —Ben Shaw

Favorite people that Mr. Lechner has served ice cream to on a regular basis have included Paul Newman and Adam Sander. “Mr. Newman stopped by on his way to race at Lime Rock and Adam Sander and his crew were here regularly when they were filming Mr. Deeds in New Milford.”

“I also enjoy the teams and scouts, the motor cycle groups and the people who come from the horse trails in the back and hitch their horses up to the picnic tables. I have the best customers anyone could ask for.

Mr. Lechner has a long history of hiring local students, starting in high school. Most start as sophomores or juniors and work through their college years,” he said.

Mr. Lechner was candid about his longtime worries that  Super 7 would be built — his special ice cream stand is located where an exit ramp was planned. This does not seem to be a problem now, however, since Super 7 has been all but abandoned as a concept.

When there was more of a curve in the road by his property, there was a certain degree of risk working there.

“Once before the road was straightened, a truck driver fell asleep, went off the road, and hit the building,” he said.

But Mr. Lechner takes this all in stride, just like during the last storm when a piece of his roof blew off.

“My store is my life and my passion and I will do what I need to keep its integrity and link to history,” he said. “Other ice cream stores will come and go, but I hope to be here for a very long time serving down home ice cream with an historic flare.”

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