Chatham Ice Cream Shop Rises From The Ashes

By: Tim Wood

Architect Richard Tichnor and Emack and Bolio's owner John Piemontese in front of the ice cream store, which was rebuilt over the winter and spring following a devastating fire. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Coming back from a devastating fire was not, shall we say, a smoothie for Emack and Bolio's, but it wasn't exactly a rocky road either.

After the building that houses the ice cream shop at 2 Kent Place, just behind the Children's Shop, was destroyed in a blaze last Halloween, a team of builders, tradesmen and contractors kicked into gear to get the structure completely rebuilt and the shop open for business before the summer season hit.

“Local people want to see other local people succeed,” said John Piemontese of Brewster, who owns the ice cream store. “It shows the humanity of contractors and service guys.”

Immediately after the fire, which was blamed on an electrical problem, Piemontese was “mostly in shock,” he said. Everything was a total loss; only a few benches stored in the basement were salvageable. He tried to dwell on the fact that no one was hurt; an apartment on the second floor was rented but the occupant wasn't home at the time. And he saw a challenge: the store was closed for the season and he had seven months to get the business back up and running.

Tom Conrad, Piemontese's brother-in-law, owns the property and immediately began working with his insurance company and lining up contractors. Harwich architect Richard Tichnor was hired to design the new structure, which would be almost an exact replica of the original building, both because its within the town's historic business district, and the site is extremely limited, hemmed in by three parking lots and a road.

But some changes were necessary, particularly bringing the structure up to current building and fire codes. There had to be an inside access to the second floor apartment (which the original building did not have), which required redesigning the interior of the shop. A full basement was also added, but because of height restrictions instead of making the building higher, the basement went lower.

Having a full basement turned out to be a boon, said Peimontese. The previous building basically had a five-foot space underneath, not much more than a crawl space, where extra ice cream was stored. A delivery driver would drop the three-gallon tubs down to him in the basement, he said.

“I do not miss that at all,” said Peimontese, who also owns Emack and Bolio's stores in Orleans and Wellfleet.

To accommodate the interior staircase, the counter was pushed forward and a partition installed that holds the menu and hides freezers and other equipment.

“The new layout works great,” Peimontese said, and has won praise from his employees.

The target date to reopen was May 15, but with general contractor Monomoy Builders working a “marathon” seven days a week, a “soft” reopening didn't happen until June 15. That was fine with Peimontese, who said he was most concerned with getting his employees, most of them local kids who depend on the season work, back on the job.

Peimontese was so impressed with the team that worked on the project that he renamed some of the store's smoothies after them, including the “Richard Revitalizer” for Tichnor (who also draws The Chronicle's Shark Cove cartoon); the “Conrad Cooler” for his brother-in-law; and “Tropical Tony” for Tony DelNegro, the graphic artists who designed the store's menus and website.

With a lot of competition for ice cream lovers' dollars, it was important to not loose a season, so Peimontese is thankful for the team that pulled together to get Emack's open again.

“It's great to be back in business,” he said.