When people tell Carl Hovermale they want to retire and start an ice cream business, the owner of Hovermale's Tastes Best in Fort Washington is quick to give them the real scoop.
“Have you been working a 40-hour week? You'll need to work 100 or more,” the 66-year-old Fort Washington resident said he tells people. “Running this store is like trying to raise quadruplets. It's that much work.”
But something about the Livingston Road shop, which turns 60 this year, keeps bringing customers back for soft serve ice cream and hot dogs and keeps its owner hard at work. Hovermale said longtime customers often stop by to reminisce about the old days at Hovermale's Tastes Best.
“It reminds you of years past,” said Jim Peterson, 75, of Fort Washington, who said he has known the Hovermale family for decades. Peterson said he remembers stopping by the shop when he attended Oxon Hill High School in the 1950s, after baseball and football games.
“They treat you like you're one of their own,” he said. “If you ever go there, you'll go back.”
Hovermale said good ice cream requires good ingredients, good machines and rigorous cleaning — he spends a few hours before and after each shift meticulously cleaning each of the machines that dispenses the ice cream — and it's the challenge of the job that keeps him going back to work every day, year after year.
“It's neat to me to be able to come in and work every day,” managing employees, restocking and cleaning for about 17 hours each day, Hovermale said. “It's a challenge.”
He said the business has demanded long hours and dedication ever since his parents opened it as a Tastee Freeze franchise on June 21, 1954. He said his mother, Orpha, who had the temperament of a “drill sergeant,” and his father, Bruce, a “mechanical wizard,” made a good team. About five years later they renamed the shop Hovermale's Tastes Best.
Hovermale, who began helping his parents in the store when he was about eight years old, said he never planned on a career selling ice cream — he majored in economics and considered becoming a Prince George's County policeman — but after his older brother chose a different profession, someone had to keep the family business going.
“The biggest thing is sacrifice,” said Hovermale, who took over the business in 1972. “It just becomes your life.”
On busy days, the store sees 700 to 800 customers — ordering anything from vanilla and chocolate cones to milkshakes, to sundaes, to hot dogs — while on slow days the number is closer to 60, Hovermale said. The store closes from October to March because business is slow and that's when Hovermale does maintenance work on his ice cream machines, cutting down his work week from 110 hours to 40 hours.
One of the biggest challenges of running the store is finding good employees, but the employees are also one of the best things about the work, Hovermale said.
“It's tough to leave a place when the people become like family,” said Kim Miller, 30, of Waldorf, who has been working at the ice cream shop for almost 16 years.
Growing up in Fort Washington, Miller said she remembers coming to Hovermale's Tastes Best after baseball games, and the smell of the ice cream always brings back memories.
“Coming here as a kid, walking up to the window, you would smell it when they handed you your cone,” Miller said. “Sometimes, you just catch it and it kind of brings you back to simpler times.”