LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – When Amy Green was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer last spring, doctors told her that one of the side effects to her chemotherapy might be the loss of taste.
“I almost didn’t do the treatment because of that,” she said.
The owner of Ivanna Cone, the ice cream shop appropriately located in the Creamery Building at 701 P St., was only half kidding.
After all, what would be the point if she couldn’t taste-test her frozen concoctions – from parlor favorites like sweet-cream vanilla and Dutch chocolate to the outrageous caramelized onion cheesecake – to determine if they are worthy to be listed on the shop’s chalkboard menu, which always features 15 flavors?
“I make ice cream for a living,” she told the Lincoln Journal Star. “I want to be able to taste it.”
Ten months later, the good news is Green, still undergoing hormone therapy, is in clinical remission. The great news is that “I feel amazing and I have my taste buds again.”
Just in time, too.
Green has spent the last couple of weeks preparing for Ivanna Cone’s Friday reopening, a date that was circled on the calendar way back in December when she called for “an ice cream sabbatical.”
A break might have been needed. The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on all small businesses, but Green can make the case that 2020 hit Ivanna Cone harder than most.
It started a year ago when her daughter Grace, who manages the ice cream shop, shattered her ankle and was unable to run the counter just as the pandemic was beginning to take root.
A few months later, Green got her cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy began immediately.
To make matters worse, in October, her son Tom contracted COVID-19, forcing a recovering Green into deeper isolation from her family.
By the time December came, Green did the math and figured paying rent while closing the shop during the heart of winter was the best option for financial survival.
Much of the last year has been without customers inside the building. Take-out orders were filled and received at a window that overlooks an alley. On Wednesday, three socially distanced tables were ready for customers, a sign that better days were on the horizon.
“We always figured we’d reopen the first weekend in March,” she said.
Her timing couldn’t have been better. She was able to stay home during last month’s sub-freezing temperatures – a time when ice cream isn’t in great demand – and fell into an opening week that will feature Lincoln’s first round of spring-like weather.
The shop will also likely see added traffic from the girls state high school basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I was hoping it would be a nice, easy open-up, but it could be crazy,” Green said. “The weather is nice and people are excited to not be stuck at home any more.”
“I don’t know exactly what to expect,” said Jackson Agena, who has spent the better part of the last six years making ice cream. “I’ve never seen Ivanna Cone with this much social media attention and news coverage. But we’ve handled high-capacity crowds in the past when we had lines down the block. We’ll do it again.”
Before the pandemic, Green would have staffed the weekend with 24 workers, or Cone Heads as they have come to be known. She’ll attempt to navigate this weekend with eight staff members and a few others who have signed on to help.
“We’re out of practice because we haven’t been doing this for a while,” she said. “March snuck up faster than expected. I’m excited, but also a little bit overwhelmed.”
Green spent the week making a variety of flavors. There are four flavors – sweet-cream vanilla, Dutch chocolate, cinnamon and fresh strawberry – that are always on the menu because they are the most popular.
In addition, there will also be puppy chow, birthday cake and a whiskey-based ice cream called cookies and Beam. Green also said there will be vegan options this weekend, with elder flower peach sorbet and chocolate banana macadamia nut.
“Everyone has their own spin on various flavors,” she said. “That’s what makes ice cream fun and interesting to me. You can just try new things.”
Since opening Ivanna Cone in 1997, she has experimented with all kinds of flavors. In 2018, she calculated rolling out 3,000 different flavors – some more conventional than others.
Don’t be surprised to see some unique flavors in the coming months – like caramelized onion cheesecake or cucumber dill.
“You’d be surprised how much people like those different flavors,” she said.
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