- Ian MacPhee digs in and goes for the cold. photo Alyson Hardwick
Ice cream can be many things: a family outing, a great first date, a late-night secret, a sunburnt stop on the way home from the ocean. A creamy, ill-advised meal substitute. It's not just a dairy product, it's an experience. And for the complete experience, the light and heat of summer are a necessity. One needs to feel the sun, to know the rhythm of the summer sidewalk, to taste a little salty sweat in order to really experience ice cream. Furthermore, to fully immerse oneself in this glorious, indulgent activity, one needs a place, depot, a sugar shack, a Shangri-La. At one such spot, Jubilee Junction, the preparations for ice cream season are in full swing. The staff at this much-adored convenience store have packed high the pails of sweetness, de- and re-frosted the freezer. On the corner of Jubilee Road and Preston Street, they've pulled out the patio furniture and unfurled the umbrellas, reinstating their store's reputation as a nexus of easy breeziness.
Owned and operated by brothers Mike and Al Habib, Jubilee Junction has been a staple of the neighbourhood for over a decade and, in summer, a hotspot for ice cream lovers. Typified by the colourful mural surrounding it, Jubilee Junction is a welcoming place known not only for its tantalizing ice cream products but also for its ice cream man, Ian MacPhee. This ferryman of flavour is the ultimate incarnation of The Ice Cream Experience. To have your scoop scooped by a real, bona fide ice cream man like MacPhee is to know the great heights of this essential summer ritual.
MacPhee, an ex-broadcasting professional of over 40 years, is a tall, cool drink of water. His snow white hair and bright blue eyes make for an inviting appearance. He is the owner of a velvety voice and a palliative, playful demeanour. He is practically the Platonic ideal of an ice cream man. When one receives a cup, cone or homemade ice cream sandwich from MacPhee, one has the sense of having drunk from the very wellspring of ice cream culture. I sat with him in late May, at the cusp of summer's onset, to discuss the season, the ins and outs of his profession, the importance of community and good business and the transitory nature of ice cream.
Andrew Patterson: How did you get started scooping ice cream at Jubilee Junction?
Ian MacPhee: I just hung around the store a bit. That's how we got to know each other. One thing led to another, they needed someone and I was around and had some free time.
AP: What's winter like for an ice cream man? Do you have year-round customers?
IM: Oh yeah. We get the university crowd all winter. They come in all glassy-eyed and order a milkshake at quarter to midnight. They just want something sweet at night.
I have a line I use with them: 'Too cold for ice cream,' I say. And they say, 'It's never too cold.'
AP: How did the ice cream craze get started at Jubilee Junction?
IM: We weren't really into ice cream when I started here. We had a freezer full of ice cream novelties and bars and that kind of stuff. Then when Michael realized there was a market for it, we started scooping. We weren't making the cookie sandwiches in those days. Now, everything else is secondary. The cookies have taken off and we can't keep up. It's nuts.
AP: Do you have a lot of repeat customers?
IM: We have this one girl from Toronto, she loves Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough so much that I nicknamed her Miss Cookie Dough. I asked her one day, 'Don't you have Cookie Dough in Toronto?' and she said, 'Yeah, but it doesn't taste like this.'
AP: How do you keep people coming back?
IM: South enders love their pooches, so I started giving all the dogs around here treats. If you're good to the dog, the customer will come back. The dog remembers you, so the dog wants to come here. We have about 50 dogs that come here now. There's one named Josie, a golden retriever. She comes here every night for an empty cone. She wants me to break it up and throw it to her. See, she's a hunting dog, so she doesn't actually care about the cone. It's just a game. I could stand there all night throwing pieces of cone to her and she'd stay there forever.
AP: What about your relationship with the customers?
IM: I joke with them a lot. I try to get them going, y'know? All the neighbourhood kids know me and I know them. They've been going through school here. You watch them grow up in the store.
AP: Do you feel like you guys have a special place in the community here?
IM: We try to watch the neighbourhood. We consider ourselves the unofficial neighbourhood watch, cause a lot of people don't seem to watch the neighbourhood. It doesn't matter where you are, you should be watching your own neighbourhood.
AP: Do you have a favourite flavour?
IM: At the moment, it's the new Strawberry Daquiri. It's not a sherbet, it's not a yogurt, it's delicious. Don't get me wrong, I like the peanut butter ones, too. Peanut Butter Fudge is a great flavour. It's one of the oldest and it's still going strong.
AP: Any flavours that you miss?
IM: Don't get me started on that. You see, they stop making flavours because they're too expensive to make. Like banana and coffee, people always ask for those. They tell me it's because of poor sales and I say, 'I have people ask me all the time for them. I know that's not true. I know you're lying.'
AP: Any fond memories of ice cream?
IM: I always loved ice cream as a kid. When I was growing up, they had this thing called the Arctic Bar. It was chocolate covered vanilla on a stick. I remember going in and ordering four at a time. [laughs] They cost five cents and were they ever good! Those days are long gone.
AP: What question do you get asked the most?
IM: The flavours. That's where I get people. I'll be busy and they'll be pointing and saying, 'What's that? What's that? What's that?' and I'll let them stew for awhile and then walk over and say, 'Ice cream.' It's a way I have fun with them.
AP: Any possible alternative uses for ice cream?
IM: [laughs] Like what? Use it in place of gas? That'd be nice. Sorry man, I don't know. Ice cream melts.
Andrew Patterson spent two years of his life working in an ice cream shop and now writes about music for a living.