How often would you work late when you really didn't have to? And by late, we aren't talking 5:30 or 6 p.m. Try 10 or 10:30 p.m. on for size?
"I was here until 10:30 p.m. last night." The man behind the quote is Stratton Leopold, no stranger to anyone who knows Savannah. His name is up in pink neon for anyone to see at what is quite possibly the one food-related location on nearly every Savannah visitor's itinerary: Leopold's Ice Cream.
It would be easy to go home, catch up on the latest from Hollywood and put in more time working on his next movie project, but Stratton finds time for it all. "I enjoy being here. Talking to people and hearing their stories," he says.
It's not at all hard to see that this approach permeates throughout the entire operation. When the boss is working late, picking up a piece of trash on the floor or making sure every single guest is comfortable in the ice cream shop, no matter the hour, every other employee sees that and realizes it is the expectation when you work at one of the most popular ice cream shops in the South.
"I think it is also due to the fact that we try to be very careful and selective about who we cast in different positions," Stratton says. "Our ambassadors need to be outgoing and enjoy talking to people. It's very important who we cast in those roles."
Fascinating choice of words: "casting" and "roles." The only other place I have personally seen that refers to employees as "cast members" is Walt Disney World. Every position has a purpose. "Ambassadors" at Leopold's are responsible in part for making sure people waiting in line have a copy of the menu to go over and a cup of ice-cold water if they need one. For the record, it wasn't all that long ago, a few years maybe, when you'd find a line at Leopold's Ice Cream during peak times, maybe after dinner.
These days, I'm told the line starts at 11 a.m. when they open their doors and is pretty steady until closing time, especially in the summer.
"It's important to get it right," Stratton says. "For example, we have one employee who told us she is uncomfortable talking to people. So she's in the back hand-packing pints of ice cream. And she's very happy doing that."
While the front of the house is making sure every single guest is happy, the back of the house is constantly working to keep every single guest engaged. It would be easy to just sit back and sell all of the vanilla, chocolate and butter pecan ice cream you can all day long — too easy. It's why the culinary staff at Leopold's is always looking to add flavors to their selection, whether seasonal or long-term.
We all know about their Girl Scout Cookie offerings in the spring, but this summer there's a new one to roll out for the dads in line: Caramel Biscotti Cafe Porter Cream featuring an original brew from Service Brewing Co. How's that title, long enough for you?
Well, forget the title; I've had it and it is pretty awesome.
"We usually try to work with Service every March," says Carey Ferrara, director of marketing for Leopold's Ice Cream. "This year, we got a call from Service telling us they thought they had a beer that would be great for ice cream. So we sat down and discussed what it would be."
Service wanted something crunchy; they got biscotti. Leopold's wanted a caramel swirl, so they added that. It sounds busy, but it works. Especially if you like the flavor of a good porter. A lot of dads do. That's why this new flavor just rolled out on Broughton Street last week.
"It's been selling well in the shop. We are even getting mail-order pint requests," Carey says. "It's fun because it's people who make beer getting to make ice cream. And people who make ice cream, getting to have fun doing it with beer."
You don't need a dozen stage hands to see that every facet of Leopold's operations is aimed at not only providing the best product they can, but also keeping it all fresh and interesting. Ultimately, I think it is a huge part of the appeal of the shop. Dare I say, the magic of Leopold's.
"Obviously the product, my dad's ice cream, is a big part of that," Stratton says. "But more to the point, I think it's the empathy we have for our guests and they have for us. It's wholesome and old fashioned."
Don't forget delicious.
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