The parlor, reimagined
LE MARS — Reimagined. That is the new inspiration behind Wells Blue Bunny’s latest project.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Sentinel on Monday, Adam Baumgartner, Wells Enterprises, Inc. vice-president for retail sales, announced plans for the renovation and expansion of the current Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, 115 Central Ave. N.W.
“We’re really excited to bring a reimagined experience to this parlor and in particular highlighting what we have here in Le Mars,” Baumgartner said. “What we are doing is really recreating and reimagining this experience all around the notion that ice cream is fun and Blue Bunny as a brand in particular stands for fun and playfulness. We want to bring that feeling to life in the experience that you see here.”
Baumgartner said with Wells’ acquisition of the former Timmy’s Catering location, the parlor will expand from 11,266 square feet to 18,944 square feet.
“We are taking the first third of that building, the full front, and are excited to relocate our event and meeting space down there. We will have full meeting and event support there and will be knocking the wall down to the right of the current food service area so there will be an entry there with doors for privacy if needed,” Baumgartner stated.
The addition of the new space will make way for an expanded meeting space complete with full screens, media capabilities, storage, and the ability to seat 80 people.
Directly above the meeting room, will be a downtown Le Mars’ roof deck outdoor seating area to accommodate around 49.
“It will be the first of its kind in downtown Le Mars. It will offer a different place to sit and enjoy your ice cream and will make for a really cool addition to downtown Le Mars as well,” he said.
While the parlor will see an expansion, one will also see its current area transformed from the moment one enters the doorways.
“We have a big draw here and we bring in more than 200,000 people on a yearly basis. We believe we can offer even more of a creative experience unlike any other in this magical corner in northwest Iowa that will be something really special and that we’re excited about in terms of how we’re reinvesting back into our community. We want to bring to life everything we have to offer and showcase a little bit of education, and a little bit of entertainment for a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t find anywhere else,” Baumgartner said.
With that goal in mind, the Wells creative team has spent a year and a half doing their homework researching events, locations and parlors that offer a similar experience to that of the ice cream parlor.
“We’ve learned a lot of what we can bring here that enhances the experience we have and continue to put our own special touch on that as well, too. As a result of that we have been able to put together a master plan,” Baumgartner stated.
With the master plan set, a few of the architectural renderings were revealed to give a glimpse of what visitors can look forward to seeing upon the completion of the renovation.
Among the changes is an increase in the location’s seating capacity by adding a new dining area to the left of the doorways (where the current gift shop is located); the relocation of the gift shop to under the staircase; and reconcentrating the gift shop to brand specific items and promotional materials.
Visitors will notice a new color scheme offering bright, vibrant colors, wall patterns and themed seating that “will bring fun and play to life,” according to Baumgartner.
“We will have some designated space for history embedded throughout the parlor, as well as some of the iconic imagery that we’ve used over the years. In the middle (of the dining area) is a centerpiece that will create an experiential old soda fountain that will serve as an entertainment place for kids and others to enjoy,” he added.
With the addition of a new meeting space, the current site will be repurposed as a theater where visitors can watch a 7-10 minute video depicting the history of Wells, the history of Le Mars and how they two entities have come together.
The theater is expected to seat between 50-60 and will offer a permanent screen, bench seating, and will be handicap accessible.
The current meeting space will no longer be available for rent after Sept. 1.
An interactive exhibit for people of all ages will draw customers in when visiting the upper level of the parlor. In the southeast corner, people will find a display that showcases how ice cream is made and what it is the company does to bring ice cream all the way from the farm to the spoon at home.
“I personally think it will be the highlight of where most people will find themselves gravitating to,” Baumgartner stated. “We obviously can’t for many safety and practical reasons offer tours in our facilities. The next best thing is to bring it to life in a fun, playful and interactive way that really shows the magic of ice cream production.
“There will be a walking tour, if you will, from beginning to end that showcases just how we get our milk from our cows, how it finds its way into our production facilities, how it becomes ice cream, how we store it in our freezer, how we transport it, how it gets from warehouse to display, and ultimately how it gets to our mouths to enjoy,” he added.
Directly next to it, in the southwest corner will be what is called, “Blu’s Backyard.”
“It’s going to be a younger kids interactive play area. We’re going to bring Blu to life so people can see where he lives. We’re actually constructing a model of where Blu might live. Blu’s Backyard will be a place kids can play while their parents and grandparents may be entertained by several other things,” Baumgartner said.
Honoring Wells employees will also play a part in the remodel, as a section of the parlor will be designated to shine a spotlight on the contributions of past, current and new employees.
“We couldn’t be who we are without the commitment of our employees for the last 105 years. So highlighting those who dedicated their lives in large part and spent a significant part of their time here, as well as new hires, is important to us,” he stated.
Construction will take place and result in the closure of the parlor in two phases. The first phase will occur from Oct. 1 to Nov. 19. Once reopened before Thanksgiving, the entire second floor and some of the first floor will remain closed, but seating will be available in the new first floor event space to accommodate guests.
The second phase will be from March 1, 2019 to mid-June 2019. The renovated parlor is expected to reopen in time for Ice Cream Days and the Le Mars Sesquicentennial festivities next year.
Currently the ice cream parlor staffs 30 full and part-time employees. After the remodel and expansion is complete, Baumgartner estimates staff size may nearly double.
“This really begins and ends with Mike (Wells). His vision and his commitment to the community and ensuring as we continue to grow and develop that it’s all about paying respect to where we started and continuing to invest and build and believe in the future of the community,” Baumgartner added. “This to us is the epicenter of what that can be. So we’re really excited for that and what it means for the future of Wells and Le Mars.”
To monitor the project’s progress, Baumgartner encouraged the public to like the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor’s Facebook page.