BAR HARBOR — Ten years ago, Linda Parker got her start making gourmet ice cream in a building on Rodick Street, lugging each batch down a flight of stairs to a blast freezer in the basement.
Today, her company receives regular shout-outs from national media, including “Food and Wine” and USA Today, as one of the country’s best ice cream shops. Two scoop shops in Bar Harbor and one in Portland have lines out the door. They plan a free ice cream day later this year to thank both communities for their support over the decade.
And Parker is announcing plans to expand the company, opening an ice cream and coffee shop in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always had my eye on D.C.,” Parker said. She grew up hanging out there. Her mother, Jane Krueger Parker, was from Chevy Chase and passed away on Easter last year. So the new store is in part a tribute to her.
“The idea of having a store in the area where she grew up, and that I grew up visiting with her, is really comforting to me,” she said.
Parker had a coffee shop, Matsumoto Joe, next to her flagship ice cream shop on Firefly Lane for three seasons, but she did not reopen it this year.
“It was a hard decision; I miss it. But I had to decide – it was going to be hard to continue with Matsumoto Joe and go into expansion with MDI Ice Cream,” she said. Much of the coffee equipment will go to the D.C. store, where she plans to offer espresso drinks.
The new store will include new business partners, she said. They haven’t settled on a location, but the ice cream will be made there rather than shipped from Maine. Her partners visited Bar Harbor this summer to learn the business.
“They came up three times this summer to work under me and with the company – in production, behind the counter, everything. That was part of the deal. And it was a lot of fun!”
The Bar Harbor shops are seasonal, but the one in Portland is open year-round. In D.C., Parker said, “I think it will be even more of a year-round thing because the climate’s warmer. It’s such a big food city; there’s a lot that’s exciting that’s going on there.”
At the moment, the company has two full-time ice cream makers to supply its three shops and wholesale orders. “It’s been the hottest summer we’ve ever had. It’s been the most humid summer we’ve ever had. They are hitting it out of the ballpark. It’s so difficult with this kind of humidity, and they’re just doing so well.”
Parker and her team continue to innovate with techniques and flavors. “My ice cream is way better now than it was when we started,” she said. “There’s so many techniques to figure out, food science-wise.
“When I started out, I didn’t know how to make sorbets in a way that they could be scooped. Our blueberry basil sorbet I think is the best it’s ever been this year. And other flavors – we have never rested on our chocolate recipe, for example. Every year, we’re tweaking it.”
This fall, she plans to focus on developing a few good vegan ice cream flavors. “I’ve been working with soy, almond milk and coconut cream. It’s a whole different science.”