All photos Corey Rodda/Catalyst
“You can get an ice cream for a $1.50, it’s for kids of all ages. Everybody qualifies,” said John Hallahan one of the owners of Cafe Ala Mode clad in a white blouse and pirate hat. As he served up the Cafe’s kiddie cones, he topped them with whipped cream, a cherry and sprinkles or nuts.
Hallahan and his love and business partner, Konnie Nelson, took over the ice cream shop next to the dollar theatre on Lockwood Ridge Rd. last August. Hallahan said, “We were tired of working for the folks and wanted to take a chance and take over our own business.”
The menu items at Cafe Ala Mode are priced to be affordable to families down on their luck. “In a downturn economy there are a lot of parents that have been laid off. People who have been forced to transfer from a home to an apartment.” As the catalyst was interviewing him, he pointed to a table occupied by a young family enjoying ice cream cones, he said, “that speaks for itself.”
Hallahan was born in New Jersey and then moved to England with his mother and grandparents while his dad served in the Vietnam war. He returned to the states in ’86. He first dressed as a pirate when he went to a renaissance festival with Nelson and needed a costume. He said, “The pirate thing just happened … when Disney brought out Jack Sparrow out, it just re-awoke the child pirate in me.” Nelson is from Indiana and comes from a family of chocolatiers. She has a background as a barista and prepares the Cafe’s frappes.
“We are the brightest bulb in the plaza at nighttime,” Hallahan said. “We are the last shop to close here. So it can be quiet. It’s a great way to try and forge a living and you know, we’ve had a slow beginning. You know how difficult it was and now we are starting to win the hearts of the locals. And when people come in and say that they will come back, they do and so they bring their friends and their children.”
He makes the Cafe’s chicken salad each day from rotisserie chicken. It is served in a croissant and topped with organic greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and onion. The chicken salad sandwich, grilled 3-cheese sandwich, meatball panini and turkey panini cost $4.50 each. The soup is $2.00 a cup and made from scratch by Hallahan. Soup flavors vary daily and include chicken vegetable, sweet potato, broccoli cheese, cheesy chicken enchilada, tomato basil, potato leek, cream of chicken and mushroom and cream of mushroom. Nelson bakes the cookies and brownies for the cafe.
“Our ice cream is from Working Cow out of St. Pete florida. They use all natural flavors — some of the best ice cream in Florida. The gelato is out of Tampa, their corporate headquarters are in Michigan. It was featured on the Opera Winfrey show,” Hallahan said. Ice cream and gelato flavors include carrot cake, blueberry cheesecake, banana praline, superman, cotton candy, coconut and mango sorbet.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are or how rich or poor you are,” Hallahan said. You walk in our door and come in as a stranger [and leave] as a friend. This is a favorite part of what we do to see families sharing something as simple as ice cream.”
He reflected, “In this day in age and everything that’s going on, we are all hurting in one fashion or more and we need to smile more and have more laughs.”