Today, Spencer’s is owned and operated by Kevin Geroux of Old Town. Geroux, who purchased the business from previous owner Matthew Michaud in February 2016, renovated the building over a period of three-and-a-half months before reopening Spencer’s in late May 2016.
In addition to the many flavors of ice cream, milkshakes and sundaes, Spencer’s also offers fresh-dough pizza and specials (listed on the marquee out front) prepared by Jane Thibodeau of Jane’s Catering. Geroux also reintroduced the convenience-store aspect of Spencer’s, adding staples like snacks, canned goods, beer and wine, soda, dairy and personal-care products.
To gather some of the store’s history, I spoke with Bradley resident (and current part-time employee of the store) Kristina Cote. Cote has been part of the Spencer’s story for her entire life. She lives near the store in the old Spencer homestead, where Norman Charles Spencer lived when he acquired the store in the late 1920s.
During our conversation, Cote called the grandson of Norman Spencer, Norman Charles Spencer Jr., currently of Deerfield Beach, Florida. While speaking with Spencer, we sat at a table, under a portrait of his grandfather, pictured in front of a truck used for store deliveries.
“My grandfather acquired the store from another gentleman in Bradley in 1928 or 1929,” Spencer told me. “In those years, it was really a general store which stocked pretty much everything that the community might need, from paint and hardware and supplies, to groceries, to ammunition and hunting supplies. It had pretty much everything to supply the community with what they needed.”
Spencer told me that the store remained a constant and vital part of the community in those years.
“Not much changed during that time. He was pretty old-fashioned in that regard,” he said. “I was born in 1946 and remember being in and out of the store all the time in the early years. My father worked there and I did too, later, until my grandfather sold it in 1962.”
It’s interesting to note that the homemade ice cream being sold at Spencer’s during the early years, was considered secondary in terms of store inventory offered for sale.
“That’s true,” Spencer says. “People certainly enjoyed the ice cream but it didn’t have the priority that it later had. He offered so many different things, the store went further back and was larger in depth. They needed that extra room in order to stock it all.”
Even though Spencer’s has been part of her family for many years, Kristina Cote had never worked in the store until now. Her full-time job is with the University of Maine; Cote works evenings and weekends at Spencer’s, where her children are also employed.
“All three of us started when the store reopened last June,” Cote told me. “It’s my daughter’s first job. She was 15 when she started. My son is 18 and is going to college and this has been a great part-time job for him.”
Having grown up on the ice cream, Cote says she is thrilled that the store has been doing so well since reopening.
“I’m really happy to have the store back and have the community support it,” she said. “The pizza has been a big hit and the fresh food from Jane Thibodeau of Jane’s Catering keeps bringing people back. I’m really happy to have the store back and have the community support it.”
For Jane Thibodeau of Jane’s Catering in Old Town, being part of the Spencer’s story has been a great fit.
“Spencer’s was a tradition from my childhood,” Thibodeau said. “I love the vintage feel of the store. I also love taking care of people and enjoy the fact that people come in looking for the food that I made.”
One of the highlights of my visit to Spencer’s was being invited by Kevin Geroux into Spencer’s inner-sanctum to witness a new batch of ice cream being prepared by Jeannie Abbott.
“Tonight we’re making chocolate ice cream and it’s coming out right now,” Abbott says. “The first thing we do is sanitize the machine between flavors and then put it back together.”
As Abbott explained to me, Spencer’s is very careful not to mix flavors, especially if there is a peanut-based flavor involved.
“Some people have peanut allergies and we’re really careful to keep the peanut-based flavors separate from the others. We’re very careful to thoroughly clean the machine between flavors.”
I watched as Abbott held a new container next to the machine to capture the frosty and flavorful treat. “That looks like a bucket of Heaven,” I said to Abbott.
“We’re going to make another bucket of Heaven later with chocolate-peanut butter cup,” Abbott replied. “We use pieces of frozen peanut butter cups.”
According to Geroux and Abbott, Spencer’s ice cream is made with 14 percent butterfat. “A lot of the other ice cream around is made with 11 or 12 percent and you don’t get the silky, creamy consistency when you use that,” Geroux said.
According to the International Dairy Foods Association, “premium” ice cream, like Spencer’s, tends to have low overrun (the amount of air allowed into the finished product) which results in a denser product. Overrun is governed by federal standards which indicate that the finished product must not weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.
According to Geroux and Abbott, Spencer’s offered 34 flavors of ice cream last summer. “It was crazy trying to keep all of them stocked but crazy is fun,” Abbott said.
Currently, Spencer’s biggest-selling flavors are chocolate peanut butter fudge, black raspberry, French vanilla and chocolate chip.
“The French vanilla is extremely popular because we use rich vanilla custard in addition to the vanilla that we add to the mix,” Abbott explained.
One of the advantages of acquiring a legacy ice cream business is seeing returning customers, not only from the surrounding area but from outside of Maine as well, according to Geroux.
“We had two older couples from Massachusetts stop in today for some butter pecan, French vanilla and double chocolate,” Geroux said. “They said ‘We never come to Maine without stopping at Spencer’s.’”
“Did he just say ‘double chocolate?’” I asked.
“The double chocolate was Kevin’s idea,” Abbott said. “One day, he said ‘We need a flavor with even more chocolate.’ I said ‘Are you crazy?’ So we doubled the amount. It’s really rich and delicious.’”
Back when Norman Spencer acquired the store in the late 1920s, he made ice cream in the same spot but with a much different process.
“He made ice cream using an old wooden hand churn which I have now in my shop,” Geroux said.
“They didn’t have some of the flavorings that we have now,” Abbott added. “They would cook their flavorings, cool them and then add them to the ice cream mixture. It was quite a process.”
From peanut butter (“Jif”) to Grapenuts to chocolate and vanilla, Geroux said that Spencer’s only uses premium ingredients for their ice cream.
“You can taste the difference when you use the best. For cherry vanilla, we use real cherries with the juice filtered out,” he said.
“For our cherry walnut, we use the juice from the cherries,” added Abbott.
At the moment, Geroux is working to offer Spencer’s ice cream in area stores.
“We’re currently in a couple of shops and campgrounds but we plan on adding more stores soon,” he said.
A new addition to Spencer’s lineup will be ice cream pies, according to Geroux.
“It’s in the experimental stage now. We take a crust and, as we make the ice cream, we pour it in, Jane (Thibodeau) will decorate them and we freeze it. Ice cream pie!”
“People like peanut butter pie and we’ll have a peanut butter ice cream pie,” Abbott added. “Jane will pipe whipped cream around the edge and drizzle chocolate across the top. She’ll ‘Jane it up.’”
A new display freezer is due to arrive soon at Spencer’s and will offer pints, quarts and pies in the front of the store. “If someone wants one of those ice cream pies now, we’ll definitely do it for them,” Geroux said.
When the weather is a little warmer, Geroux says that he will reintroduce Spencer’s summer barbecue concert series each Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., an attraction that began last summer.
“Jessi Mallory as Elvis is a big hit and we also had Rockin’ Ron and Mike Tool’s band and some others,” Geroux said. “On any given Wednesday night, we had 200 people out there enjoying the music, the weather, the barbecue and the ice cream.”
“We had baked beans, lobster rolls and burgers and hot dogs on Jane’s homemade rolls,” Abbott added. “There’s no charge for those Wednesday night gigs but they put a bucket out for donations which is certainly appreciated.”
Shortly after purchasing Spencer’s, Geroux bought the adjacent property, which at the time housed an old apartment building.
“We got rid of that building which gave us a lot of room outside for parking and for the summer concerts,” he said. “This year, we’ll also have a little lunch shack out there with fried scallops, clams, chicken nuggets, fingers and fries.”
Since Geroux reopened the business, Spencer’s has sold literally tons of ice cream. “From the first batch on May 28 to New Year’s Eve, we made 5,000 gallons of ice cream,” Abbott told me.
I reached out to some of my Facebook friends for some of their memories associated with the Bradley-made treat.
Chris Shorette of Old Town: Favorite flavor - Chocolate peanut butter fudge. “I grew up about a mile from Spencer’s. I have great memories of riding there on my bike. The store now reminds me of what the store was when I was growing up. The folks running it now are doing an absolutely incredible job. If you’ve ever had an ice cream from Spencer’s, just the mention of the name will bring a smile to your face.”
Cheryl Oliver of Hampden: Favorite flavor – Chocolate-peanut butter. “It’s funny. Even as a kid, I wouldn’t eat chocolate but Spencer’s chocolate-peanut butter is amazing. As a kid, my family would go for Sunday rides. We would all load up in the VW Rabbit and go to Bradley and get an ice cream at Spencer’s. It was a summer-fun thing that we would all look forward to. A couple of years ago, my husband Brian and I started taking our kids there so we’re keeping that tradition going.”
Liz Ward of Bangor: Favorite flavor – Black cherry. “My fiancé and I are big fans of Spencer’s. When we had a Harley, a bunch of us would go on these really fun rides that always included a trip to Spencer’s for what I would refer to as ‘lick licks.’ It was always an awesome experience because Spencer’s simply has the best ice cream.”
Danny Williams of Orono: Favorite flavor – “I go back and forth between chocolate chip and peanut butter cup. I can remember going to Spencer’s as a little kid. On one trip, as we were going through Old Town, I was complaining about the odor. I was just little so the significance of the paper mill hadn’t registered. I remember my grandfather saying ‘That’s the smell of bread and butter.’ I remember laughing and thinking ‘How could anyone get that smell confused with bread and butter?’ That was when I learned what that expression meant. Every time I go to Spencer’s, I think of my grandfather and that story.”
Emily Cain of Orono: “My favorite flavor is butterscotch, hands down. They don’t always have it available but when they do, in addition to getting the cone that I came for, I’ll end up taking home the largest packed container of ice cream that they have. Spencer’s ice cream is my favorite ice cream, period. Danny [the aforementioned Mr. Williams] and I went there the first summer we were dating. I said, ‘Wow, how have I lived so close for so many years without having this until now?’ We both have a lot of happy and delicious memories.”