Rob Gardner takes a break Saturday while working at The Ice Cream Shoppe he and his wife, Tina, plan to open in May 2021 at 902 Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — The western stretch of Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland is adding another business, The Ice Cream Shoppe.

The building is nearing completion and the Gardner family expects to open in May 2021 — Memorial Day weekend.

Clad in working attire, including rugged, blaze-orange gloves, Rob Gardner said last week the fourth location of The Ice Cream Shoppe — a 2,400-square-foot building, with a parking lot for 100 vehicles — exemplifies the family’s approach.

“It’s a family affair,” Gardner said, standing at a power saw. “We do every bit ourselves. We do everything we can do.”

Located at 902 Kennedy Memorial Drive, near Waterville County Club, the shop will add to the Gardner family’s other locations in Farmington, Randolph and Skowhegan.

Robert and Tina Gardner of Mercer own the four ice cream stands after taking over the business from Tina’s parents.

Tina Gardner’s father and mother — Ricky and Donna Parlin — started the Skowhegan store 33 years ago. Tina opened her first store, in Randolph, about 24 years ago. The Gardners took over for Tina’s parents seven years ago, and built the Farmington location in 2015.

“It’s kind of a family tradition. My parents started it, so here I am,” Tina Gardner said. “You’ve got to love what you do, and if you don’t love what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s where I am at.”

Everything from the heating and cooling system to the walls are built by the family. Rob Gardner is a trained contractor who owned a construction company before moving full time to the ice cream business.

“I enjoy building, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m always looking to do more,” he said. “In a way, it fits me being in the construction business and fits with ice cream.”

Added Tina Gardner, “We both do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”

Rob and Tina Gardner have driven Kennedy Memorial Drive often over the years, staring at the empty lot on Country Club Road and thinking it would make a good location for another of their ice cream shops.

They looked into buying the whole 17-acre parcel in the fall of 2018, but opted against such a large piece if property.

After the couple went to Labrador in Canada, as they do every winter, they found the lot on Kennedy Memorial Drive had been split up. They bought about 4.5 acres in the summer of 2019 and immediately began the earth work.

Work is proceeding at the The Ice Cream Shoppe at 902 Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland. Owners Rob and Tina Gardner say they plan to open in May 2021. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We had always thought we’d expand at some point, but for me it’s 20 minutes from where we live,” Tina Gardner said. “It’s halfway to Randolph, it’s halfway to our house. It’s convenient and it’s central.”

Rob Gardner has worked at the location every day since the beginning of September, save for Thanksgiving Day. He said they could have opened in time for the end of this past summer, but decided against it due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With COVID-19, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said, “so we decided to put things on hold. We had to manage our current businesses and the COVID-19 situation first.”

The Gardners own and operate a few rental properties, but the ice cream shops comprise their main business. Between the hard-serve, soft-serve, vegan, no-sugar-added ice creams, sherbets and other treats, The Ice Cream Shoppe serves almost 100 flavors.

People have stopped to ask what was planned for the Gardners’ new building, especially as talk circulated of a Cracker Barrel restaurant or Fielder’s Choice Ice Cream shop coming to the location.

The Gardners were quick to dispel the rumors: The Ice Cream Shoppe is coming. And with traffic on Kennedy Memorial Drive, Country Club Road and Interstate 95, the couple said they expect strong business. Some day, they added, there might even be miniature golf.

“The community and the talk around town seems to be that this will probably be one of our busiest shops,” Rob Gardner said. “Hopefully, that’ll be right.”

The Gardners said they will begin training new employees at the Skowhegan and Farmington locations in late March in preparation for the May opening in Oakland.

The couple’s niece, Chloe Dubois, a 2020 graduate of Skowhegan Area High School, is the third generation to enter the business and will help manage one of the stores.

“To literally have the owners or owners’ family in the shop makes a big difference,” Rob Gardner said.

Oakland Supply Co., Center Stage Boutique and J&H Music have also opened recently within a short distance of the Gardners’ site.

When the Gardners bought the property, they disassembled a barn and kept the parts. They hope to use the them later, perhaps to build a small event space.

“It’s a busy spot, but there’s more space,” Tina Gardner said. “We kind of have a blank canvas, and we can do whatever we choose to do.”

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