Employees could only stand by and watch, stunned, as a massive fire tore through the main store of Ellington's Kloter Farms on the morning of June 29, 2011. Although no one was injured, the family-owned business, known for its furniture, sheds, gazebos and other outdoor structures, suffered millions of dollars in damage.
But the Kloter family made immediate plans to rebuild, transforming its nearby warehouse into its country store while crews worked to reconstruct the showroom. It was a hot summer, and Sue Kloter, married to co-founder Jason Kloter, got the idea to fill coolers with ice cream and bring treats to the workers.
"We did that, like, three times a week," she said. "People were thrilled to see us come. We got to know who liked what." The response made her wonder if she was on to something — the Kloter family had long considered adding some sort of food service to its business, but hadn't done anything beyond offering free hot dogs or popcorn to customers on busy weekends.
By the time Kloter Farms debuted its new renovated building in August 2012, just 14 months after the fire, Sue and Jason Kloter were ready to introduce the new Kloter's Ice Cream Barn alongside it. The property's seasonal business features about 20 flavors of hard ice cream, along with soft serve, in a variety of cones, cups, sundaes and milkshakes.
"It just kind of blossomed. Everything fell into place," Sue Kloter says of the Barn's first year. They chose to sell premium flavors from three ice cream suppliers: Kreider Farms of Manheim, Pa.; Emack & Bolio's, based in Boston; and Connecticut's own Praline's.
Favorites and top sellers include Chocolate Addiction, a chocolate mousse ice cream with fudge and chocolate chunks; Peanut Butter Avalanche, a chocolate ice cream loaded with what Sue Kloter calls "huge waves" of peanut butter; and a classic mint chocolate chip.
Others include a rich espresso flavor, with chocolate-covered coffee beans and chocolate swirl; the vanilla-based Kloter Krunch with caramel swirl, walnuts, chocolate chips and vanilla cookie pieces; and Coconut Bar, with chocolate-covered coconut candy pieces swirled into coconut ice cream.
Freshly made waffle cones come standard at the Barn, with no upcharge. Sue Kloter says the staff produces 200 to 300 fresh cones daily. (Sugar and plain cones are also available.)
Splurge-worthy preparations include specialty sundaes ($6.75) like the Grandma's Cookie Jar, with chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate sauce, cookie crumbs, real whipped cream and a chocolate kiss. The Peanut Butter Lovers starts with peanut butter ripple chunk ice cream, then gets a generous drizzle of peanut butter and chocolate sauces, whipped cream and a piece of housemade peanut butter bark candy. Other sundaes feature mint, strawberry and coffee flavors.
Kids enjoy the "dirt cup" ($3.75) with soft serve, crumbled Oreos and gummy worms, and there's even a free treat for dogs: the Scooby Snack, a small serving of vanilla soft serve topped with crunchy dog kibble.
Soft serve cones and cups are $2.50 to $4.95; hard serve ice cream is $3 to $6.95 (for a sampler of four flavors); sundaes are $4.50 to $6.75. Ice cream cookie sandwiches are $3.95 to $5. Toppings, including sprinkles, candies, cookies, sauces and nuts, are 25 cents to 75 cents.
Kloter's Ice Cream Barn, which is open from mid-April to Columbus Day, has seen its business grow significantly in its four seasons, between word of mouth and social media. A popular Facebook promotion, "Lucky Name of the Day," offers a free cone to customers with that chosen first name.
"It just has snowballed," Sue Kloter said of the daily name game. "People constantly tag people – people that don't know about us, who don't know Kloter Farms has an ice cream place, it really has gotten the word out."
Jason Kloter, whose father, Keith, started Kloter Farms in 1980, said it's always been a goal to make the Ellington site a destination. "We're a family business, so we've made a choice not to have multiple locations, but we draw from probably a 60-, 70-, 80-mile area," he said.
Weekend sales and promotions have featured free snacks and kids activities, like fall hayrides, but the ice cream barn brings in regular summertime guests who stay to enjoy the grounds with comfortable outdoor seating, fire pits and several swing sets.
"People come, get an ice cream, and an hour or hour and a half later, they're still here," Jason Kloter said.
The Kloters say Ellington has been very supportive of the business, and they try to give back to local organizations in return. Their ice cream fundraiser for a young town boy battling cancer garnered huge lines of people turning out to support the cause, Sue Kloter said.
They say they're grateful the barn has become a town gathering spot. "The ice cream business is a happy business," said Sue Kloter. "Either you're here because you're happy, you're celebrating something, or it's a treat ... or you're here because you want to be happy."
Jason Kloter agreed. "How good is it to make people happy and get paid for it?"
Kloter's Ice Cream Barn, 216 West Road, Ellington, is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 9:30 p.m. 860-375-7240, klotersicecreambarn.com.