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Summer Nights

Summer Nights: Johnson’s in Northwood measures success by the scoop

  • From left: Rob Firth, Lindsey Canniff, Bobby Roberto, Jess Napoli and Anthony Portelle, all from Saugus, Mass., eat ice cream and talk at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    From left: Rob Firth, Lindsey Canniff, Bobby Roberto, Jess Napoli and Anthony Portelle, all from Saugus, Mass., eat ice cream and talk at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • From left: Spencer Nowland, of Northwood, puts on gloves as Devan Bickford, of Epsom, takes an order from customer Paul Dube, of Epsom, at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    From left: Spencer Nowland, of Northwood, puts on gloves as Devan Bickford, of Epsom, takes an order from customer Paul Dube, of Epsom, at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Garrett Blake, 5, son of Brian Blake of Epsom, reaches for a bowl of ice cream at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Garrett Blake, 5, son of Brian Blake of Epsom, reaches for a bowl of ice cream at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • The dairy bar's menu is seen at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    The dairy bar's menu is seen at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Alicia Brown, of Chichester, serves an ice cream cone at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Alicia Brown, of Chichester, serves an ice cream cone at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • From left: Rob Firth, Lindsey Canniff, Bobby Roberto, Jess Napoli and Anthony Portelle, all from Saugus, Mass., eat ice cream and talk at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • From left: Spencer Nowland, of Northwood, puts on gloves as Devan Bickford, of Epsom, takes an order from customer Paul Dube, of Epsom, at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Garrett Blake, 5, son of Brian Blake of Epsom, reaches for a bowl of ice cream at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • The dairy bar's menu is seen at Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Alicia Brown, of Chichester, serves an ice cream cone at the dairy bar in Johnson's Seafood & Steak in Northwood on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

Louise Doyle and her daughter Pat McCaw have been eating ice cream at Johnson’s Dairy Bar in Northwood for more than half a century. Their family has owned a cabin in Northwood since before Johnson’s opened along Route 4 in 1955.

The ownership has changed since then, and the ice cream, once homemade, now comes from Massachusetts. But the family’s fondness for the dairy bar is as strong as ever. When Doyle’s brother was in the Navy in the 1950s, he tried ice cream in nearly every city he visited. He’d always come back with the same report.

“Remember, he always said, ‘Johnson’s has the best ice cream,’ ” McCaw laughed with her mother as they waited for their ice cream outside the restaurant Monday night.

Summer after summer, Johnson’s remains a big hit. Fathers and daughters, married couples and several sports teams dotted the green picnic tables Monday, enjoying the heaping scoops in a variety of flavors from Maine Black Bear to Purple Cow. Even on what was a slow day, more than 400 ice cream orders had been served by 8:30 p.m.

Patrons can also enjoy a bite inside Johnson’s Seafood & Steak, the attached restaurant. Johnson’s, sold about a decade ago to Jeffrey Fenerty and Ken West, also has locations in New Durham and North Berwick, Maine. Those restaurants are open year-round, but the outside ice cream windows are what draw the long lines of customers on summer nights.

“It’s always busy when we drive by. It’s kind of intimidating,” said Jessica Torosian, who was there for her second time with her husband, Jesse, and two children.

The couple is thinking of moving to Northwood from Lee. The first time they went to Johnson’s they had a sit-down dinner inside, but Monday night, it was all about the ice cream.

“I made him drive here, actually,” she said. “I said if we’re going to move up here, we need a place for ice cream.”

Their 2-year-old son, Brayden, sat chipping away at a kiddie-sized watermelon sorbet that was nearly as big as his head while ice cream melted over the sides of his Styrofoam dish. At Johnson’s, a kiddie size is measured as one softball-sized scoop; a small is two, a medium three and a large four. That’s so much ice cream that most patrons who ask for a cone also get a dish to flip their cone into before it becomes a drippy, melting mess.

The employees who have to wipe the drips off the tables and serve up ice cream to those long lines say a night at Johnson’s hardly feels like work. Manager Beth Davis has worked at Johnson’s for nine years and said about half the staff has been there for at least five.

“It’s like working with your friends and your family,” she said.

Sarah Kilham, 16, agreed. Although she just started working at Johnson’s in mid-May, she’s one of many customers who had their first bite early.

“I’ve been coming here since I was like a little, little kid,” she said.

Joanna and Donald Carette enjoyed Moose Tracks sundaes on a picnic table outside with their niece, Tammy Hutchins, and her two children.

The Carettes have been in Northwood for 13 years but were coming to Johnson’s long before that. When their own children were young, they’d often go on drives out to Portsmouth or elsewhere from their home in Goffstown. They’d look for fun local places to stop for snacks, and Johnson’s became one of them.

They now live just 4 miles down the road and brought a new generation of youngsters to Johnson’s. Hutchins was visiting from Florida with her two children, 4-year-old Collin and 8-year-old Morgan. Collin’s answer to how the chocolate ice cream that covered his face tasted was a simple “Good!” as he rubbed his belly.

The kids weren’t the only ones excited about the visit.

“I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow ice cream,” Donald Carette said.

Indeed, everyone at Johnson’s seemed to draw some excitement from the massive portion of ice cream in front of them. A team of Bishop Brady girls soccer players stopped at Johnson’s after a game at Coe-Brown. Some had been there before, but based on the shocked expressions when several received their kiddie and small ice creams, it was apparent that many had not.

“This is a kiddie!” one player said as she lifted a dish of cookie dough ice cream.

That’s a typical reaction for a Johnson’s newcomer.

“We don’t do anything little, everything is big,” Davis said. “And that’s what keeps people coming back.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments2

I've been going there for years. I took Dad up until his end for fish and chips followed by strawberry shortcake. The best! I still take my step-dad, must be good for elderly men, :)

Johnson's is the best.

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