New Ice Cream Shop Embraces Iconic Building’s Past
EAST LONGMEADOW – Two massive barn-style doors opened on their original tracks, revealing a floor-to-ceiling screen window on one side and the door to a terrace on the other. Natural lighting that flooded in revealed a black countertop, gleaming freezer boxes, reclaimed wood flooring, and dark beams on the vaulted roof. The building was once a train station and then a feed store. Now an ice cream shop, visiting the depot at Graham Central Station is like stepping back in time – but with all modern conveniences.
“The goal was to keep it as close to the original as possible, while still making it somewhere people want to eat,” said Steve Graham, who co-owns the business with his wife, Jean Graham.
The building, which sits along the Redstone Rail Trail, was built in 1877 as a stop on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroads. The East Longmeadow rail depot was part of a network of rail lines carrying passengers from Boston to New York and New Haven, Connecticut, to Lowell and Turners Falls.
After the railway went bankrupt during the Great Depression, the building was bought by the Rintoul family and turned into a community food store. Graham said that in the 1950s, customers would come to the store to collect charcoal, hay, and feed.
As time passed and the food store went bankrupt, the building had been left unused for decades. Then, in 2010, the Grahams bought the building to keep it from deteriorating. In early 2020, they decided to start the ice cream business.
“My wife and I don’t have any culinary experience,” Graham admitted. The couple turned to Larry Passmore to lead operations as general manager. Passmore’s experience in the restaurant industry, including Friendly’s and Chuck-E-Cheese, made the Grahams confident in their choice to run the business. They also hired an assistant manager and five employees to staff the shop.
After the results of an informal Facebook investigation asking whether the Graham Central Station depot should sell regular or soft ice cream were spread fairly evenly, the Grahams decided to sell both. They will offer ice cream in cones, cups, milkshakes and floats. The ice cream shop will also offer coffee, tea and cold drinks.
“People passing the trail might not want ice cream, but a cold drink would be nice,” Graham explained.
Originally, the plan was due to open in June 2020, but Graham said the pandemic delayed the project due to contractors’ delays, rising materials prices and the town hall’s closure for some time.
When asked how much the renovation of the property cost, Graham laughed and said it was “a lot”. He continued, “This is a special project. It has the potential to be something good for the community. We spent a little extra money to make you feel good when you walk in. We have this opportunity to take a property that has not been used for a long time and make it something special for the community.
The decor of the renovated building is filled with unique pieces of history and photos, on loan from the Historical Society. Four large charcoal tools sit above the screen window, and historic photos, letters, and a train timetable have been turned into poster-sized wall art. Above the ice cream counter, an original red and white sign recognizes the building’s old life as a community food store. “Bruce Moore of the Historical Society, he’s preserved most of that,” Graham said.
Even the new additions reflect the feel of the 144-year-old structure, like the deck, made of red oak roughly hewn from a tree that fell in Graham’s yard in a microburst two years ago.
While building the ice cream shop was a labor of love, Graham said that, from a business standpoint, it is “a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is a property located in the center of a neat little town. You don’t often find this in New England.
Most of the seating is outside thanks to wooden picnic tables and benches on the deck and in the mulched area next to it. Inside, once the seat distance restrictions are lifted, there will be room for four tables. Graham said the space would be ideal for private parties outside of office hours.
Graham plans to use the landscaped outdoor space and parking lot for food trucks, a farmer’s market, auto shows and live music on Saturday nights. He even described a winter driving event where people could have hot chocolate and see Santa Claus surrounded by trees adorned with lights.
The couple also plan to expand the menu in the future to serve pastries or light meals for lunch. While the Grahams can’t help but dream, he said that for now, “We’re going to figure out the ice cream part, square it up.”
The Graham Central Station depot at 64 Maple Street will be open seven days a week from noon to 9 p.m., with a grand opening scheduled for April 30. They plan to be seasonal, operating until October.