TOWNSEND -- Tom Panagiotes had always wanted to be in the ice cream business.
He got a shot at his dream in 1982 when he was helping his wife, Michelle, expand her second-floor dance studio. Tom thought that the space below would be perfect for an ice cream stand. Friends suggested to call it the Ice Cream Factory.
After 36 years of serving generations of customers and growing the stand into a restaurant that offers pizza and seafood, Tom said it was time to hand the business to his nephew, Paul Panagiotes.
"I finally got what I wanted and now it's time to pass the buck," Tom said during an interview at the Ice Cream Factory.
Paul began as owner in April and has been learning about the family business from his uncle, who still works part-time.
"He's my Yoda with all the wisdom he has to offer," Paul said.
Since taking over, he has spruced up the restaurant with a fresh coat of paint, added a wood beam in the eating area, and renovated the inside window and counters with its original wood.
Located near the center of Townsend, the Ice Cream Factory has attracted locals and people from surrounding towns, Tom said. Some drive down from New Hampshire on Route 13.
It's common for kids to walk over from Hawthorne Brook Middle School or drive over from the high school after school for food, or for families to come out for ice cream after dinner.
Dancers from his wife's studio often stop by after classes.
The restaurant is open March through December for more than 8 hours a day.
It has a longer season and hours compared to other ice cream places in the area, Tom said.
Especially after a bad winter or spring, people are eager to come to the restaurant.
"They have any excuse to come out for an ice cream," he said.
The ice cream is made by Richardson's Farm in Middleton.
About 70 flavors are available at the restaurant, including classics like vanilla or favorites like coffee. There are also special flavors like German chocolate cake or phantom berry, which is black raspberry with brownies and chocolate crunch pieces.
It's not just frozen treats the restaurant is known for. The Ice Cream Factory can cook up burgers, subs, fries, and more.
Food makes up about half of sales and has been a way to expand business, Tom said.
Paul has been looking for ways to add to the menu. He is currently trying fish and shrimp tacos as as special.
Tom began selling pizza a few years after the restaurant opened.
The Panagiotes family has made pizza since the 1960s, he said. Tom's father owned Mr. Tom's Pizza in Ayer and Winchendon and his brother owned Paul's Pizza in Leominster.
Paul got his start in the food business working at his grandfather's and father's pizza places.
Members of the family including Tom's daughter, nieces, and nephews have worked at the Ice Cream Factory over the years.
After working in manufacturing, Paul said he is happy to be back in a restaurant and to head the business. He hopes one day to retire from the Ice Cream Factory, l ike his uncle.
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