Hebbville Tastee Freez celebrates 50 years

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Earlier days. The Hebbville Tastee Freez as it was when it opened on Highway 3 in 1967.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>JoAnne and Doug Corkum, current owners of Hebbville Tastee Freez. Doug&#8217;s father Roy established the take-away ice-cream and burger business on a vacant lot in the village in 1967.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Peggy Jefferson, an employee at Hebbville Tastee Freez, prepares waffle cones, which are made fresh daily.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The Hebbville Tastee Freez 50 years later. The take-away ice cream and burger service operates from mid-April to mid-September.</p>
  • <p><em>(company sign)</em></p>

In an industry dominated by franchise giants such as McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, a small, family-owned fast-food business in Hebbville has managed to withstand the test of time.

Hebbville Tastee Freez, the burger and ice cream take-away restaurant on Highway 3, is celebrating 50 years in business this month.

Owned by JoAnne and Doug Corkum, and Doug's parents before that, Tastee Freez has survived and succeeded amid a tall serving of challenges.

"I can remember growing up, Dad always said, 'I don't think it's going to work because [customers] have got to drive past McDonald's. They've got to drive back here.' The 103 had gone in ... But he kept going. He kept working at it," recalls Doug of his father Roy.

Open mid-April to mid-September, Tastee Freez now has a staff of nine full-time workers in addition to Doug and JoAnne. Combined, they serve up to 750 burgers, about 170 kilograms of french fries, 140 litres of hard ice cream and 500 litres of soft ice cream a week.

Doug Corkum chalks up the longevity of the take-away business to "good service and friendly staff." But both he and JoAnne agree it's more than that.

And while they admit there remains ongoing challenges on some fronts, they're confident they've positioned the company well for anyone who might want to take it into the next 50 years.

Humble beginnings in Bridgewater

It was Doug's father, Roy, who relocated the take-out service to Hebbville from Bridgewater, in 1966. The lease on the land it stood on at the Bridgewater Plaza had come up for renewal and, according to the Corkums, the restaurant's owner decided to sell the building rather than renew.

Roy, who worked full-time at a shoe store in Bridgewater at the time, moved the building, which included a fridge and two ice cream machines, to a parcel of land approximately an acre in size across from Indian Garden Farm. He leased the land from the farm's owner, the late Gerald Hebb, who was a friend and neighbour.

Tastee Freez opened for business there in 1967 selling soft-ice cream. Roy's wife, Jean, ran the business, which had two full-time employees.

It was a risky move.

"The first 10 years, as I remember growing up as a boy, were touch and go," says Doug, who was 14 when the business started. At the time, Hebbville hadn't even reached village status, he notes.

Still, the business carried on. Doug, his two sisters, Janet and Patricia, as well as JoAnne worked there in their teens. By the time Doug bought the business from his mother in 1984, it had a staff of six full-time workers.

Like his father before him, Doug carried on with his full-time job as a maintenance worker with the Nova Scotia Community College. JoAnne continued to work at Nova Scotia Power.

In time, Doug and JoAnne would invest about $20,000 doubling the building size. They added a kitchen, which allowed them to introduce a selection of fast food items, including fish and chips, poutine and mozzarella burgers with pineapple and Thai sauce, as well as hard ice cream.

Tastee Freez prides itself on being local

The village of Hebbville has virtually grown up around it.

Tastee Freez now draws customers from the near-by industrial park and so-called Auto Row along with its scattering of garages. Four-wheelers and walkers stop by when they're traversing the trail that's close by. Parents bring their kids there after soccer games at the Hebbville school, and truckers still often pull in.

The take-away business also shares a lot of customers with the Indian Garden Farm market across the road.

"I would say, where we're located, we don't see the tourists so much. Our business is the local people," says JoAnne.

"And we have people who are bringing their grandchildren. They were here and they just keep coming," adds her husband.

According to JoAnne, the family's long-standing policy of hiring local workers who are connected to the community helps.

Usually, the staff know their customers' names, she says. "That's huge."

Equally notable is Tastee Freez's footprint in the local economy, say its owners.

They point to suppliers such as Indian Garden Farms, Farmer's, Mader's Refrigeration & Air Conditioning and Galen's Propane Service.

"It's not just the staff that you hire. It's the interaction with all these local people. They keep us going. And I'm sure we give them enough business that we help keep them going," says JoAnne.

Finding staff is an increasingly bigger challenge, though, according to the owners. While it's always been an issue finding people, other than students, who are willing to take on seasonal work, they say fewer younger people are around to take on the job. And those who are may not be willing to work weekends and nights or in a hot, fast-paced environment.

Their own daughter who used to work there as a high school student has moved on to university where she's studying nuclear medicine.

"So she's not interested in being anything more than a customer," says JoAnne chuckling.

As for the future of the business, Tastee Freez customers can expect more of the same.

"At this point, we're not going to change what works for us," says JoAnne.

Without a family member to whom they might pass the business on, they expect they will sell the business at some point.

"It ties you down for six months. But then you've got the six months. You can go away and do anything you want to," says JoAnne, noting that it's been "ideal" for them, allowing them to be snowbirds.

Reflecting on where things stand after half a century in business, Doug adds: "Dad and Mom started it. It was kind of a stab in the dark. They didn't know it was going to work, or anything else.

"My main goal was to make the 50 years, which was this year. That's what kept me going. And kept building it."

For anyone who wants to work and carry it forward, he says, "it's the perfect opportunity."

Meanwhile, customers are invited to drop by between 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on July 12 to join in the 50-year celebrations.

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