The Ice Cream Store

/ Updated on May 3, 2017

Chip Hearn and his family have been hawking ice cream just a few steps off the Boardwalk on Rehoboth Avenue for many years. In fact, before it was The Ice Cream Store it was a Dairy Queen (located a few doors west) back around the time when Chip’s dad owned the Country Squire restaurant directly across the Avenue (where Seaside Thai was, and Semra’s Mediterranean Grill is now).

You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement as you pass by The Ice Cream Store. Hearn is nothing if not a promoter, and his bevy of pink-clad, mostly female counter clerks have no problem walking out onto the sidewalk to counsel you on your choice of what seems like about 3000 different flavors.

It’s a given that Hearn’s ice cream is good. The bigger-than-life proprietor never misses a chance to say that his product far exceeds the percentage of butterfat legally required in order to call ice cream ice cream. And that’s what the rich, creamy taste is all about. But ice cream is, after all, ice cream, and Chip’s story is just as interesting as his colorful, carnival-like counter by the Boardwalk. So if you’re up for a little Rehoboth Beach history, read on. If not, skip to the last paragraph, then get yourself downtown for a coneful of Booger, Better than Sex or Lick Me, I’m Delicious.

There are few things more fundamentally Rehoboth than this entrepreneur and all-around likeable character. Bigger than life in ‘most every way, Chip Hearn will sell you hundreds of bottles of hot sauce (all different), dish up ice cream with names like Motor Oil, Looks Like Viagra, I Don’t Give a Fork, and Crack while feeding you award-winning barbecue at his storefront in Lewes – barbecue that has won awards in nationwide competition after nationwide competition.

The smiling (well, mostly, depending on how many thousands of people they have waited on) crew is always happy to let you taste any of the 70 flavors (well, it seemed like 3000) and then order them as a cone, a cup, a milkshake, a smoothie (with fresh fruit), in a waffle cone, etc., etc.

A Delaware boy through and through, young Chip spent every free moment at his grandfather’s house (built in the ‘20s) on the ocean block of Olive Avenue.  He worked at the family business in Wilmington, which in the early ‘30s covered a city block and included a bakery, a candy store, a butcher and an ice cream parlor. When Chip’s father and grandfather consolidated all the stores into a single building, the word “supermarket” wasn’t yet a household word.

As a high schooler, Chip set out to find his fortune where Olive Avenue intersects the ocean. His first venture was a no-frills affair: A table on the boardwalk from which he sold Italian water ice. Those were the days when 17 year-old Dominick Pulieri himself was tossing pizzas at Grotto, and Tim and Tony Gouvas weren’t much taller than the counter at George’s Lunch (now the current Louie’s Pizza).

In the mid-70s, a larger space just a few doors to the east of the Dairy Queen on Rehoboth Avenue became The Ice Cream Store. The Hearn ice cream empire eventually grew to 7 stores in Delaware, including the landmark Dairy Queen on Lewes Beach and several Tastee Freeze franchises.

In the late ‘70s, diners flocked to the Country Squire restaurant, drawn to the DIY bloody mary smorgasbord  and its famed collection of hot sauces. In the mid-‘80s, the Hearns moved the bloody mary bar to the Starboard in Dewey Beach, continuing the DIY tradition of bloody mary construction and consumption. Loyal customers donated their favorite pepper sauces to the ever-increasing collection, and they accumulated so quickly that Hearn started selling them out of a utility building in the Starboard’s parking lot. It wasn’t long before the Hearns sold the Starboard to the present owners (Steve “Monty” Montgomery and partners) and Chip opened one of the first stores entirely dedicated to hot sauces. Interestingly, as a teenager growing up in Dewey Beach, Monty worked for the Hearns at the Starboard. Now he owns the joint. Ain’t America great?

When the first Peppers store opened, Chip was already a celebrity in the world of chiliheads. His collection-gone-wild became the definitive source for everything spicy and pleasingly painful. His family sold the Starboard in 1998, and since then Peppers.com and the current storefront in Lewes have become mandatory destinations for pepper lovers the world over.

Hearn’s pepper prowess extends to national barbecue competitions. He has appeared on Good Morning America and numerous Food Network specials, including Bobby Flay’s Throwdown and Unwrapped, and it’s no secret that Chip will do just about anything to charm a TV camera. Though the stakes are in the multi-thousands of dollars at national barbecue competitions, he can always be found smoking octopus, fruit and even ice cream to keep the cameras pointing at Peppers. One of his funniest on-camera moments was his on-air explanation of the effects of the pain-producing pepper extract, capsaicin. He calmly described to the interviewer how the chemical activates pain sensors that alert the brain to send protective endorphins throughout the body. When they get to the mouth and discover there’s no injury, they apparently exclaim (at this point Hearn begins to wave his arms and speak like an endorphin), “Oh well, we’re already here, so let’s just have some fun!”

On the day of the Dewey Beach Bacon Festival earlier this year, I was able to get a few sneak peeks; the highlight being an exclusive tasting of Chip’s Bacon de Leche ice cream.

Hearn created this porky flavor specifically for Dewey’s first-ever homage to swine. Modeled after dulce de leche (a variation on caramel created by heating milk rather than sugar), the cool confection is creamy testament to the timeless adage that everything goes better with bacon. Crunchy candied pecans don’t hurt either. I was skeptical at first, because some bacon-laced sweets have left a greasy aftertaste for me. But Chip’s recipe did not. The savory/smoky undertone worked perfectly with his exclusive creamy base. The big guy knows his stuff.

But he’s the first to tell you that not everybody loves all the flavors he dreams up – even if they do include bacon (a fact I found hard to believe). So, seasoned promoter that he is, he rolls out brand-new flavors every year and lets his faithful public provide the ultimate thumbs up – or down.  Do not miss the annual Ice Cream Social and Tasting Event held every year in mid-May. Free tastings are given out, and tasters vote on their favorites. The three worst flavors will, in store manager Jamie’s words, “Be voted off the island!”

This year, Bacon de Leche was joined by 22 other flavors vying for your votes. And each one comes with a story. Baracky Road is a particularly presidential variety featuring multicolored marshmallows. Hearn added walnuts at the last minute, “Because all politicians are nuts,” he says. Two particularly bracing flavors included Coffee Break (coffee and espresso with cookie dough and brownie pieces thrown in for good measure) and Sangria (a bright and fruity blend reminiscent of wine – and wait ‘til you see the color).

As a fan of Brooklyn’s Momofuku Milk Bar, I was instantly captivated by the Crack ice cream redolent of the famous Crack Pie served at Milk across the street from Momofuku. (In fact, you can try the Crack ice cream at Mitch King’s Port Dewey restaurant, where it does a great job of putting out the mouth fires set by Chef Inton’s Thai dishes.)

If you order I Don’t Give a Fork, they will in fact give you a fork – stuck right into the top of your cone. This already popular flavor should be classified as a main course, with African vanilla ice cream overflowing with brownie and pretzel pieces, crushed Oreos (real Oreos, by the way), cookie dough and mini chocolate chips. This was another one I was a little wary of – until I tried it. It’s crunchy, chewy, a little chocolaty with a hint of salt. Absolutely delicious.

Chip has always had a burning desire to merge three flavors that should not otherwise exist together. So after lengthy experimentation (much of it reported to be quite unsettling), Ménage á Trois was born: Creamy Skippy peanut butter is swirled in with strawberries and marshmallow, with strawberry-spiked Marshmallow Fluff on top, just in case you didn’t get the message.

One of the surplus products of the chocolate-making process is cocoa nibs: Pointy little bits of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean. Nobody knew what to do with them until Chip Hearn came along. He stirred them into milk chocolate ice cream along with chocolate nougat, caramel and orange blossom honey. The whole thing was lovingly finished with a hint of sea salt. When he heard it cry out, “Lick Me, I’m Delicious!”, he named it that. Yes, it sounds scary, but it is sublime.

See? I warned you this article was going to be about a lot more than ice cream. If you stayed with me this long, I thank you. Of course, you can taste some of Hearn’s favorite hot sauces right there by the Boardwalk (do you think he’d pass up such a perfect opportunity for cross-promotion!?!?). And rest assured that more than one ice cream flavor has BBQ sauce and who knows what else (get a scoop of Scorpion Sting or Ghost Pepper ice cream!) to scare the daylights out of your tastebuds.

Take a look at the menu here.

The Ice Cream Store is at 6 Rehoboth Avenue, just west of the Candy Kitchen by the Boardwalk. In the shoulder seasons you can call them at 302-227-4608 to check their hours. They even welcome emails at peppers@peppers.com.

The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

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  1. Pam Wade MacConochie says:

    I worked for Chip for many years at The Starboard and I realized you omitted one salient fact…while attending UVA, one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, Chip would drive back every week end to Delaware to work!

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