When Mike Arehart took over Kline’s Dairy Bar from Bess Kline in 1979 at age 19, the Friendly City favorite boasted just nine ice cream flavors.
Bess continued to work the front window until 1994, before she passed away in 2006.
While she loved the business, Bess didn’t like change.
“She didn’t have any kids, but she always treated me like I was one of hers, so I didn’t want to erupt change overnight,” Arehart explained.
In addition to Kline’s, in 1979 Arehart also owned the Ice Cream Factory — where the variety of flavors was larger. It was then that Arehart decided a few changes were in order.
He led the charge with cookies, saying “Bess, I don’t care what we put cookies in — it sells.”
“It’s your place,” she responded quietly. “You do what you think you need to do, but I’m going to look awfully dumb sitting there putting cookies in that ice cream.”
And though he did so with concern for the stalwart’s feelings, Arehart began crafting new flavors to expand the Kline’s menu.
“One morning, she didn’t hear me come in the back door,” Arehart recalled. “I saw she had her big cup of coffee, a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and she was sitting there dipping cookies into her coffee. I snuck up behind her and said, ‘You sure are going to look dumb … ’ Startled, she turned around and said with a big frown, ‘Well, guess that shows you what I know. By God, we had to take the vanilla and throw cookies in it ... ’ ”
Arehart introduced chocolate peanut butter shortly thereafter, and Bess told him, “That’s the best stuff I ever had in my life. I guess I’m just old.”
Bess was diabetic, but she loved ice cream, especially cherry nut, according to manager Missy Summers. “She would call me up and ask, ‘When are you bringing me my ice cream?’ I was like, ‘Bess, you don’t need that,’ and she just said, ‘I want my Cherry Nut.’ ”
“I always felt I needed Bess’s approval until Bess passed away,” Arehart admitted.
“She rolls over in her grave from time to time from some of our choices,” Summers added, laughing.
Kline’s most recent menu addition, Honey Badger, for instance, includes honey, granola, vanilla wafers and Madagascar vanilla ice cream. Summers says it wasn’t a runaway success, though people didn’t hate it.
In general, people stick with their favorites. Black raspberry is a classic, as well as chocolate peanut butter and cookies ‘n cream. Arehart is partial to blueberry cheesecake swirl and Summers anticipates St. Patrick’s Day, which means pistachio ice cream.
“We stick with the core of what we’re about,” Arehart says. “Those staples are what keep people coming back.”
Contact Hannah Pitstick at 574-6274 or firstname.lastname@example.org