GRANITE FALLS — Scenes from the summer of 2021:
— Teenagers on skateboards glide in for ice cream cones, shakes and malts and to enjoy lots of banter. Their mobile phones are nowhere to be seen.
— Grandparents guide their grandchildren to the same shop for treats, the seniors enjoying the vintage rock 'n' roll music as much as the one-on-one chatter with their young charges.
— A group of women enjoying a weekend camping adventure discover the ice cream shop and its 1950s theme and music, and the friends break out into an impromptu dance while relishing their treats.
The shop is a Taste In Time in downtown Granite Falls, where Debbie Eakes and her daughter-in-law and co-manager, Karina Eakes, witnessed all of the above and much more in the shop’s first summer of business.
It’s exactly what the Eakeses were hoping to see. The thought process behind this business, Debbie Eakes explained, was to provide a place where young people could engage and have fun, and where families could do the same.
Along with the ice cream treats, A Taste In Time features a menu of made-to-order sandwiches, soups and salads.
“When we say salads, we mean salads,” Debbie said, emphasizing that each is made with a spring mix of lettuce and as many fresh vegetables as can be packed in a bowl.
Eakes and her husband, Mark, a medical doctor with Avera Granite Falls, are parents and grandparents. They had watched as their own children often left town for something to do, and decided an ice cream shop was a step toward making their community a better place.
They also hope this ice cream shop can benefit a much larger mission. It’s been created as a nonprofit organization in hopes that it will eventually prove profitable, and provide revenue for El Nido (The Nest) Birth and Family Ministries.
Originally started in 2006, El Nido is the couple’s passion. Debbie Eakes' own life experiences led her to devote herself to serving young mothers and families as a midwife. El Nido also contracts with other midwives, doulas and counselors to help young mothers with everything from making good food choices during pregnancy to breastfeeding. She also encourages growth in Christ as a Christian.
El Nido serves young women and families in an area extending from the southwestern corner of Minnesota down into eastern South Dakota and as far east as Hutchinson.
Debbie and Mark Eakes married in 1990 after having met in Chula Vista, California, while he served as an officer in the Navy. With a master's degree in engineering, Mark served a 20-year career in the Navy before starting medical school. He graduated in 2014 as a doctor of medicine and with a master's degree in public health.
Seven years ago, the couple and their children made Granite Falls their home when Mark accepted his position with the Granite Falls medical system.
Debbie Eakes said they initially hoped to open it in a downtown building that had once held a movie theater, but discovered it would be too costly to rehabilitate that building. A retired electrician donated the building that now houses the ice cream shop to El Nido Birth and Family Ministries just a few months before his death. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed work on its rehabilitation, but it all came together last spring, and the shop opened.
Family members and five part-time employees staff the shop. The help is very important to Debbie and Mark Eakes, as they commit a lot of time to the work of El Nido. Debbie’s midwife duties can require long nights without sleep. Her husband juggles a demanding schedule as a physician delivering babies.
While they sometimes hear from people who ask how they manage it all, Debbie Eakes said they do not feel overwhelmed by any means. “For us, it was always a passion we knew we wanted to do,” she said. “This is what we wanted to get to do.”
Debbie Eakes said she estimates about one-third of customers are visitors who discover the shop while exploring downtown Granite Falls. A growing arts scene, a popular popcorn stand and the quiet scenery of the Minnesota River in the downtown area all serve to attract visitors.
Of course, scoops of ice cream and the lunchtime menu attracts lots of locals who need no introduction to the downtown area. What Debbie Eakes said she appreciates the most is the fact that most of the customers seem to put away their phones and enjoy the company of one another while in the shop, exactly as she had originally hoped.
Its 1950s theme and decor are based on her memory of the Corvettes, an ice cream shop she frequented as a youth in San Diego, California. The San Diego shop included waitresses in 1950s apparel who smacked their chewing gum and treated customers with a California “attitude” that Eakes said she is not yet ready to introduce to her Minnesota customers.
A Taste In Time is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.