New queens on the town – Winnipeg Free Press

When life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue ice cream.

Fête Ice Cream & Coffee, a boutique ice cream parlour/coffee house situated on the ground level of a downtown high-rise at 300 Assiniboine Ave., began welcoming customers in November 2019. Owners Teri-Lynn Friesen and Élise Page’s intention had been to open in August of that year, at the height of so-called ice cream season, but a series of delays associated with permits and licensing scuttled that notion.

Despite the setback, sales were steady enough those first few months that they reassured one another they should be OK, from a financial standpoint, if they could hang on until spring

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Business partners Teri-Lynn Friesen (left) and Élise Page own Fête Ice Cream & Coffee on Assiniboine Avenue. Opening in November 2019, they have weathered the COVID storm.

“Then along comes COVID and suddenly we were like, ‘What were we thinking, opening a place of our own?’” says Friesen, seated next to Page in their cheery, 1,400-square-foot locale, which offers such creative flavours as blueberry-cheesecake, peanut butter-pretzel and honeycomb, the latter prepared with made-in-house sponge toffee.

“I remember getting this sense of panic when all the news (of the pandemic) started to swirl, mostly because nobody seemed to know what was going to happen next,” she continues, adding, haha, good one, when it’s mentioned her surname suits her job description perfectly. (Friesen… freezin’… get it?)

Then she came across a report of how ice cream sales were suddenly through the roof, what with so many people staying at home, and choosing comfort food to calm their nerves. That’s when she reached for her phone and sent Page a text: “I think we’re going to be all right, after all.”

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The funfetti flavour includes chunks of birthday cake.

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Friesen, who grew up in Kamloops, B.C. and moved to Winnipeg with her family at age 17, and Page, who was born and raised in St. Boniface, met in 2012, when both were teaching dance at the same Exchange District studio.

During a staff meeting in 2016, an exasperated Page jokingly announced she was going to quit her job, to sell ice cream. Friesen, who had just returned from a trip to Vancouver, where artisan ice cream places seemed to be all the rage, leaned over and whispered, “We need to talk.” (For her part, Page actually did entertain the notion of becoming a frozen-treat magnate, after travelling to Toronto in 2015, and noticing around-the-block queues outside a spot advertising build-your-own ice cream sandwiches.)

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Brendan Hellrung’s dog Lucy tries the special dog cone that comes with a doggy treat on top.

The pair chatted in earnest a few days later. Friesen already owned a domestic ice cream maker — “one of those $30 freezer thingies” — that she’d been practising with for some time. Never mind that her husband is lactose intolerant — that’s what marriage is all about, she says laughingly, describing how she presented him with bowl after bowl, in an effort to see what worked and what didn’t.

Following their conversation, she and Page paid a visit to the University of Manitoba’s dairy science lab, to apply for a course that teaches the ins and outs of making ice cream. They were accepted into the four-month program. Although Friesen had already been turning out ice cream for a while, she quickly discovered she had a fair bit left to learn.

“You have to understand, the hole of the ice cream maker we were using (at the U of M) was about the size of a dime,” she explains. “One time, the cream I was pouring in was so thick, that it started going glug, glug, glug, before overflowing like lava from a volcano.”

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Polaroids hang on the doggie wall of fame, a nod to the dog park next door.

“She’s right, it was all over the floor,” Page pipes in. “The guy in charge came running over to ask if everything was OK. We were covered in cream, head to toe, but were like, yeah, it’s all good.”

They managed to figure things out, obviously, and in April 2019, took possession of their premises, located next to the popular Bonnycastle Dog Park. With oodles of product on-hand, they made their official debut at the Wolseley Farmers Market that summer under the banner Fête, a tag suggested by Friesen because it’s French for party. After all, who isn’t in a joyous mood when they’re holding a waffle cone loaded with two scoops of mint chocolate chip?

Plus, it’s short and sweet, Page points out, “just like how you eat ice cream.”

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A board informs customers which of Fête’s 80-plus flavours are available on a given day.

From the get-go, Friesen, the mother of a five-month-old, and Page, the mother of two, ages two and four, have gone out of their way to not only prepare their ice cream from scratch, but also the various flavours’ key ingredients. That includes the chunks of birthday cake you’re tasting in their “funfetti,” and the butterscotch squares used in a peanut butter-marshmallow variety.

Every last one of their 80-plus flavours, close to two dozen of which are available at any one time, is their own creation. A few, mind you, were heavily inspired by tried-and-true family favourites, such as a strawberry-rhubarb ice cream that pays homage to the exact sort of platz Friesen’s Mennonite grandmother regularly turned out. Another, tiger-tiger, was largely influenced by a trip Page took to Australia, where she and her husband couldn’t get enough of a type of licorice hugely popular Down Under. (“Oh, we really should,” Page says with a chuckle, when it’s suggested she should draw on her French-Canadian roots, and fashion a tourtière-flavoured ice cream.)

In addition to being served in a cone or bowl, Fête ice cream also comes in take-home pints. Neither one can count the number of occasions a person living in an apartment on one of the 20-something floors above their premises has rushed down in PJs or a nightshirt, a few minutes before close, to nab a container of, say, cookies ’n’ cream, to get them through a late-night movie.

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Not in the mood for ice cream? Some homemade baked goods are also available.

They have recently established a retail presence — Crampton’s, Jardins St. Leon Gardens and Mottola Grocery all carry their fare — and have even carved their way onto the menus of various dining spots, in and around the city. For example, Oxbow, 557 Osborne St., offers Fête’s honeycomb ice cream as a dessert choice, while Pineridge Hollow, near Birds Hill Park, features “two scoops of locally made Fête vegan ice cream.”

Seated underneath the shop’s eye-catching, doggie wall of fame — pooches aren’t permitted inside, but staff are only too happy to snap a pic of Fido, using an old-school Instamatic camera no less, while it’s patiently waiting outside — Friesen and Page kid each other, saying their upcoming, third anniversary feels more like, “five, six … you pick a number.”

They think they are more than holding their own, but because they’ve never had what would be considered a normal year in business thanks to you-know-what, they still aren’t sure about projected numbers and such.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tom Unruh scoops out strawberry rhubarb crumble ice cream into take-home containers.

Does that mean it’s too early to consider the notion of a second Fête, in another corner of the city? Sure, it’s a dream of theirs, but for the time being, both are content in their own little, frosty corner of the world.

That said, Friesen does have a message for a certain, international chain that’s been around for 82 years and counting.

“Look out, DQ,” she says, speaking directly into a reporter’s recorder, “there are new queens in town.”

David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses.

[email protected]

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Friesen shows off merchandise customers can purchase.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

There are sixteen flavours to choose from including several non-dairy flavours.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

What’s your pleasure? Regular cones or waffle cones are available.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Fête offers a variety of vegan options, like these cookies.

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