There are numerous first signs of spring. Robins hopping around in the grass. Crocus plants popping up out of the ground. The start of spring sports. In Lowell the opening of Balls Softee Creme indicates a sign of another season. Contrary to an April Fool’s joke a few years ago announcing the closing of the establishment, which caused a ruckus, they are still here. Management and staff are eager to see familiar faces, welcome new ones, and kick off this year’s ice cream season.
Start of the Season Preparations
In recent weeks if you’ve been on the east side of town on Main Street you may have noticed some activity at Balls Softee Creme. Their posts on their Facebook page seem to go viral as locals as well as those who enjoy a trip to Lowell to experience chili and ice cream. A post about open interviews taking place on March 15, 16, and 17 seemed to go viral with 134 shares. Over 20 people were interviewed and of those eight were hired in addition to those returning employees.
Deliveries have been made making sure shelves are stocked. Equipment has been put into place. The boards have been taken off the front windows and menus hung up. All that is needed are customers and they’re eager to come. A Facebook post announcing their opening date has been shared nearly 260 times!
Owner Jim Ball and Manager Rachel DeVries have been busy working behind the scenes, or windows in this case, gearing up for the start of the 46th season for Balls. Today is the day you’ll be able to get your first taste of the season.
A Family Legacy
Harold and Rose Ball, Jim’s parents, opened their ice cream shop on Memorial Day in 1971. Business ownership was not new for the family who also owned the flower shop which was located in the Alpha Family Center’s current location. Jim was 15 years old when the business opened. He’s one of five kids who have been involved with the family business at some point since opening day.
While much has changed along Main Street the offering of quality food and service has not. Harold and Rose opened with just some ice cream, cups, spoons, and napkins. Toppings were not offered. The famous chili had not been created. Times have changed and with that Balls Softee Creme has acknowledged the need for growth.
In 1977 or 1978 chili was added to the menu. But don’t even try to get the secret family recipe. Jim Ball says there are lots of things he’ll divulge about the business over the years but how the chili is made is not one of them. The chili recipe may be kept under wraps but it was revealed that the meat for it is purchased from Gary’s Country Meats in Lowell.
Eventually additional ice cream flavors, the introduction of toppings, and wider selection of food increased business. With new offerings and customers a wider footprint was necessary. The building has been expanded multiple times to allow for more food preparation and storage space. The home of the Ball family once stood where the parking lot between Balls and the Alpha Family Center is now.
In 1996 the gardens were created on the grounds along with another building saw an expansion. The parking lot was also put in this year. “We’ve been in business for so long because of our friendly customer service and the product we serve. We wouldn’t be open if the community didn’t support our small business.” says Jim Ball of the longevity of Balls Softee Creme.
Training for the Future
Many high school and college students are eager to work at Balls Softee Creme. They’re quick to find that it is work. It’s also rewarding teaching employees skills not always learned with other employers.
Rachel DeVries has worked for Jim Ball since 2000. She began as a teenager looking for a job and has since become a manager. When asked what she has learned during her years spending summers in the restaurant business she replied, “Being on time, counting back money, and accountability. I hope to continue to teach kids how important it is for their future jobs the importance of having great work ethics and a positive attitude in life and on the job.” DeVries is eager for the start of her 17th season.
Responsibilities are shared by all who are employed at the ice cream location. All staff members are expected to perform all of the tasks required to serve customers. Whether it’s food prep, taking orders, filling orders, or cleaning up after close one day an employee may be taking orders and the next will be assigned to cleaning the machines. The diversity of learning various jobs creates a more well-rounded staff.
Quality customer service is also a goal. Students aren’t there to chat with friends if they stop by. When the three windows all have lines to the sidewalk the goal of keeping the line moving while not making anyone feel rushed when ordering is important. From a customer’s point of view a longer wait is worth it if you’re greeted with a smile, treated like you’re the only one in line, and receive a quality product in return. Customers are valued and treated with respect by employees.
A Gathering Place
It’s not uncommon for locals to run into a friend or more while waiting in line. Forced to stand in a group those waiting will often strike up a conversation with others even if they haven’t met in the past. Groups of students and families meet to hang out while enjoying a chilled snack or a meal.
The addition of the gardens invites customers to stay. It’s fun, relaxing, and peaceful eating among flowers even if the place is packed. And people come from across the state to experience the ice cream and chili. Some come from around the country with coolers able to transport products hours and hours before reaching a final destination. Over the years return customers from other countries have also come back to Lowell for a tasty treat.
Sunday is their busiest day of the week. Historically one of their busiest days each season is the last day of school. Sounds, or tastes, like a great way to celebrate! For the first time since October 8, 2016 Balls Softee Creme will open today at 11am. Their hours are Monday through Saturday 11am-9pm and Sunday 12pm-9pm. A bit later in their season they will be open until 10pm each day.
What’s you’re favorite menu item from Balls Softee Creme?
Photos taken and used with permission by Balls Softee Creme.