Blue-and-white striped signs top the large, clear glass windows at The Charmery, giving you a peek at the fun you’re in for. There’s also the massive metal ice cream scoop over the door, marking its location at the corner of 36th and Chestnut streets in Hampden.
It’s almost as if the scoop lifts passers-by and deposits them at the end of the line of customers, a line that’s often long but always fast moving.
Owned by the wife and husband team of Laura and David Alima, The Charmery, which sells hand-crafted ice cream in a multitude of fun and creative flavors, celebrated its third anniversary this summer.
“This is our dream project. We say it a lot,” says Laura, a Columbia native who handles the business’s marketing while David creates and finesses the flavors. “Every year, the business grows and people become more excited by it.”
That might be an understatement. Throughout the summer, lines twisted through the store, out the door and in front of the salon next door like a mix of ice cream flavors. Each time the door opened, the scent of ice cream and homemade waffle cones floated over the first few customers waiting outside.
On those busy summer nights, the staff’s calm, unflustered nature is essential. With more than 30 employees these days, The Charmery’s staff holds steady, even when they look up from the ice cream cabinet to make eye contact with customers or to check the line.
A Pikesville native, David Alima says there’s an art and skill to scooping, which he and his wife teach new employees. Customer service, however, is a different matter.
“What’s not teachable is the kindness and the friendliness,” he says. “We can tell right away if someone has the right vibe.”
David is constantly testing new flavors, which complicates matters for customers who have a tough time making decisions.
Past flavors at The Charmery have included “Cold Pizza” (a big hit), “Pickle” (also a hit), “Cheese Fries” (which came off the menu pretty quickly) and eight flavors based on ‘90s music lyrics.
“We work hard to make the odd flavors delicious,” David says with a grin. “It’s my job, and I take it very seriously.”
The cabinet holds around 16 tubs of ice cream. Most flavors change daily, outside of the standards, which include “Maryland Mud,” “Salty Caramel,” “Old Bay Caramel,” and a vegan option. (For those who think they can decide before they arrive, a webcam streams the current flavors.)
Pistachio toffee is Erica Geltman-Linardi’s favorite.
“It’s delicious and it makes me happy,” says Geltman-Linardi, a Medfield resident. “I dream about it, and I wish it was on their menu more.” (David and Laura, are you listening?)
“The ice cream is whimsical,” Geltman-Linardi waxes, “in addition to being fresh and using real ingredients.”
According to the Alimas, several traditional ice cream shop owners told them that using only locally sourced and unique ingredients — like the golden marshmallow swirl in their recent “Phelps Phlapjack Gold” and their “Berger Cookies & Cream” — just wasn’t sustainable.
But the Alimas ignored the naysayers, supported by a cadre of like-minded ice cream inventors they’d met at an ice cream conference. As evidenced by the long lines and repeated use of their frequent buyer wheel, they made the right choice.
A Jewish Twist
Almost anytime is a good time for David to invent a new flavor, including the Jewish holidays. Past holiday flavors have included “Apples & Honey” for Rosh Hashanah, “Etrog” (a creamy lemon concoction) for Sukkot and “Sufganiot” (jelly doughnut) for Chanukah.
The concepts for “Etrog” and “Sufganiot” came from The Charmery’s partnership with Charm City Tribe. CCT’s leader, Rabbi Jessy Gross, explores with 20- and 30-somethings what it means to be Jewish in downtown Baltimore, which includes finding new ways to celebrate Jewish traditions.
(One example is the group’s mobile sukkah, which Charmery customers sat in outside the store one night during Sukkot while noshing on ice cream.)
Rabbi Gross says the conversation with the Alimas started out something like this: “If I bring you a bunch of etrogs, will you make ice cream?” David didn’t waste any time, and the `Etrog’ ice cream was a hit.
The rabbi calls the Alimas “interesting people doing really creative things. Laura is always happy to brainstorm with me, and it’s important to support each other.”
The Alimas believe their Hampden location has played a big role in their success.
“It’s a community of independent businesses, all living their passions,” says David. “It’s unique and special and a great place to be, and we’re surrounded by those who are truly invested in their businesses.”
As for what’s next for The Charmery (besides determining a new batch of fun flavors), the Alimas say that could mean adding more locations or simply remaining a Hampden destination.
“We are open to new opportunities,” says Laura, “and as soon as the right one emerges, we will know.”
The Charmery is located at 801 W. 36th St., on The Avenue in Hampden.
For information, call 410-814-0493 or visit www.thecharmery.com.
Faye Rivkin is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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