Business

Ice cream man of Coupeville retires

Neal Amtmann, the “Ice Cream Man of Coupeville,” enjoys his favorite flavor of cone, chocolate mint chip. Amtmann recently retired from the ice cream business to help his wife run the couple’s clothing shop down Front Street in Coupeville. - Rick Levin
Neal Amtmann, the “Ice Cream Man of Coupeville,” enjoys his favorite flavor of cone, chocolate mint chip. Amtmann recently retired from the ice cream business to help his wife run the couple’s clothing shop down Front Street in Coupeville.
— image credit: Rick Levin

For the better part of 15 years, Coupeville resident Neal Amtmann has been standing around in a little Hole in the Wall, handing people the one thing they so desperately seek: an ice cream cone.

And just last Tuesday at 21 Front Street, in the newly named Kapaw’s Iskreme (Norwegian for ice cream), the man known affectionately around town as the “Ice Cream Man of Coupeville” was feted with a sort of retirement bon voyage, as folks from the neighborhood stopped by for one last cone and to say thanks for the memories, Neal.

Since 1987, when Amtmann — just retired from the Air Force — moved his pizza business into the Front St. address and started running a combined ice cream/pizza pie business, he has been handing cones piled with ice cream over the counter to smiling customers. He changed the name from Kristin’s to Hole in the Wall, a suitable moniker for the small retail space. And then, just 7 years ago, he dropped the pizza side and went solo on the cones, and the rest is history.

“With an ice cream cone, you can paint a smile on someone’s face,” Amtmann said Thursday. “People come in and they just want to be made happy and comfortable.”

Amtmann, who figures he’s served upwards of 800,000 cones during his tenure, is philosophical about the positive impacts of everyone’s favorite desert. “Ice cream is kind of a psychological thing,” he said. “From one end of the store to the other it’s happiness. It’s such a satisfying business from that point of view.”

Karen and Paul Whelan, who have long owned the building on 21 Front St. and now will take over the ice cream shop from Amtmann, decided to throw the Ice Cream Man a party Tuesday, with free ice cream for anyone who stopped by to wish a fond farewell. It was well attended.

Amtmann, noshing on his favorite flavor of cone (chocolate mint chip), stood in one corner of the shop and received his many well-wishers, sharing recollections. A warm and well-spoken man, Amtmann obviously has garnered some valuable life lessons from his years dipping cones.

He said two things in particular come to mind regarding what he’s learned during his time as the Ice Cream Man. First, Amtmann said serving ice cream gives you “lots of friends,” in that the simple, uncomplicated relationship of selling scoops nearly always brightens someone’s day.

“It’s good business,” he said. “It’s rare that someone doesn’t want an ice cream cone.” Amtmann added that serving the stuff “makes you feel good at the end of the day.”

Amtmann said the rewards of his job have reverberated throughout his life, as when some little kid on the ferry, for example, recognizes him, saying “There’s the Ice Cream Man!”

“The other thing I enjoyed was the people I hired,” he said, adding that it has been particularly rewarding to give young people their first job. “My policy was to teach them what to do and give them a lot of leeway,” Amtmann said.

In forcing youngsters to make their own choices as workers, Amtmann said a business owner can instill values of hard work and good decision-making, things that can last a lifetime. “I felt like a teacher in there, in a sense,” he said. “They learned a lot of self-confidence.”

Amtmann said he’s had many parents come to him and thank him for what he’s done for their children. “But all I did was gave them opportunity,” he added. “The kids had the seeds to begin with.”

Amtmann said he typically employed 3 or 4 kids a year, with many returning to work for him. One young woman worked at the shop for 4 years as she traveled through high school. “I just wish I could have given jobs to everybody,” he said.

Retirement does not mean Amtmann will cease to work; he’s simply moving down the street to help his wife Carole run the shop they own, Tartans & Tweeds. “It’s a totally different type of business,” he said of his new job. The clothing shop, he added, will provide a different pace than serving ice cream. “It’s much slower,” Amtmann said.

As to his legacy as the Ice Cream Man of Coupeville, Amtmann said he’s pleased with what he’s accomplished. “It made its mark,” he said of Hole in the Wall. “It’s probably the busiest shop on the street. I feel I helped the town some, in my own little way.”

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