Soft Stuff, the iconic Ellicott City soft serve ice cream store, reopened last week in a brand new building on the former site of the original store.
The long awaited opening, two years in the making, drew recording breaking crowds and marks the store's 30th birthday.
The Weal family — the late Ed Weal, his wife and sons, Michael and Steve Weal — opened the original walk-up window store attached to Brown's Motel in May 1984. The popular ice cream store was located on Route 40, adjacent to the Forest Diner and across from the Enchanted Forest shopping center.
For three decades, Soft Stuff served up summer time memories for generations of families.
Eating creamy ice cream treats while socializing with neighbors and friends became a tradition for many — one that marked the beginning and end of summer.
The store was also a favorite place to work for local high school students. According to Michael Weal, Soft Stuff co-owner with his brother Steve Weal, they have employed almost 200 high school students over the years. "The first kids we hired are now around 46 years old. They now come back with their kids."
In fact, in the summer of 2012, just before the original Soft Stuff and The Forest Motel were demolished and the Forest Diner moved away to make way for two mixed-use buildings (one of which would eventually house the new Soft Stuff), there were several sets of siblings working at the store.
One of the 2012 staff members was Centennial High School graduate and current Virginia Tech student Stephanie Pekala. Typical of many sibling workers, she wanted to work at Soft Stuff because her brother, 2011 Centennial High grad Michael Pekala, was employed there.
This summer, Stephanie welcomed the opportunity to be part of the reopening staff, "I love working here. The boss is lovely and the ice cream is delicious."
Although Stephanie's favorite ice cream flavor is a classic vanilla and chocolate twist with rainbow sprinkles, she, along with Micheal Weal, were excited to tell me about the new flavors and items the store is offering.
With the addition of a digital flavor burst ice cream machine, Soft Stuff now offers more flavors — mocha cappuccino, cherry, banana, cool mint, caramel, butter pecan, strawberry and cotton candy — along with the traditional vanilla, chocolate and orange flavors. The machine allows up to three different flavor twists per cone or cup. There's also vanilla or chocolate yogurt and 10 flavors of snowballs. To individualize each yogurt and ice cream treat, Soft Stuff offers a variety of dry and wet toppings including chocolate, peanut butter and butterscotch dips.
Another feature of the new store is indoor and outdoor seating. Inside, there are tables and window seats centered around a beach motif wall mural, a nod to the owners' father Ed Weal, whose trips to Rehoboth Beach inspired the original family ice cream stand. Outside, a spacious brick patio complete with modern iron bench seating and overhead sparkling string lights makes lingering with family and friends easy.
According to Jared Spahn of Old Town Construction, the firm building the new commercial and residential complex, there are more food stores coming soon including sports bar Glory Days Grill complete with an outdoor patio, Caffe Bene, the popular New York and New Jersey coffee bar, Yama Asian Fusion and Squisto pizza and pasta restaurant.
Happy 30th birthday Soft Stuff! Wishing you many more.
As one summer tradition is starting up again, another is winding down for the season. There are only three more Dorsey's Search Village Center free Thursday outdoor concerts from 6 to 8 p.m. — American folk legend Catfish Hodge (Aug. 14), magician Mr. Dave of D's Magic (Aug. 21) and Blue Rock band Automatic Slim (Aug. 28). For more information, call 410-427-4451 or go to http://www.columbiavillagecenters.com.