After 27 years, ownership of Arnie’s Place changes hands

  • New owner Kaitlyn Witts waves goodbye to school children as old owner Tom Arnold helps with the customers at Arnie's Place on Loudon Road on Tuesday, May 29, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Arnie's Place sign thanks Tom Arnold for his 27 years of owning the Loudon Road landmark on Tuesday, May 29, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Arnie’s Place owner Kaitlyn Witts serves ice cream as former owner Tom Arnold helps with soft serve, as a group of school children stop by the Loudon Road restaurant Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New owner Kaitlyn Witts with former owner Tom Arnold at Arnie’s Place on Loudon Road on Tuesday.

  • Arnie’s Place new owner Kaitlyn Witts serves up ice cream to a group of children Tuesday on Loudon Road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/29/2019 6:16:29 PM

The stream of kids moved from the yellow school bus and approached the small, sliding screen, ready to order.

That’s a common sight at Arnie’s this time of year. Grade-school kids, this time 36 of them, standing in line, waiting for a cup of soft ice cream.

What’s not common, however, is watching Kaitlyn Witts controlling the scene behind that small screen, swirling the ice cream into the cup, greeting the kids and teachers from Warren Village School, and taking their orders, telling Tom Arnold what needs to be done.

Yes, you heard right. Witts, a 2002 Concord High School graduate, owns Arnie’s, officially sold to her last Friday in a deal that alters the city’s landscape ever so slightly, yet in a big way.

First, don’t panic. Arnie’s isn’t going anywhere. That goes for its former owner and the establishment itself. Arnold, 66 and slender, will continue working there, part time, after 27 years as the top dog.

“Two years ago I decided it’s time to become a human being again,” Arnold told me, during off hours in the back dining room. “When you’re in the food service business, the restaurant business, it’s 24-7. Even if you’re not there, you’re still thinking about it, all the time.”

Arnold, who has three grown daughters and five grandchildren, thought about something else as he moved into a seller’s market. He thought about the prospective buyers, a handful of them, who wanted to demolish this landmark and put something else there. Something corporate. Something devoid of the personal touch we’ve grown accustomed to up on The Heights.

Essentially, Arnold told those people to leave his property. No way was he going to allow his homemade ice cream to melt.

Instead, he sold to Witts. She had needed a ride 19 years ago, when she first applied for a job at Arnie’s. She was a 16-year-old student at Concord High. She wore a plaid shirt and pigtails, Arnold remembered.

And like other teen employees at Arnie’s, Witts never left. Now, at 35, she and her boyfriend have three boys, all between the ages of eight
and 11.

“I’m just going to do it,” Witts told me, after those ice cream-loving students had left. “We have friends who will help us with our kids. I haven’t thought through all the details yet, but it’ll work out.”

Witts is the face of tradition, of loyalty, of a business model that Arnold is deeply proud of. Early in our meeting, he asked Witts to bring him the latest schedule. He wanted to read the names of people, like Witts, who had worked for him for a long time.

“Kaitlyn, 19 years,” he said, referring to his new boss. “Jill 14, Hannah six, Alex 14, Grace six or seven, Missy 22.”

Witts stood nearby, helping her former boss with the years, correcting him when the numbers were off, nodding when they were right. She called Arnold “the best mentor one can ask for.”

She learned from a man who learned the business long before he became an owner. His father owned a small Weeks Restaurant chain beginning in 1976, with one of the establishments located where Sal’s Pizza currently sits.

That’s where Arnold washed dishes. That’s where he learned how to run a business. That’s where his father taught him something that served him well years later.

At Arnie’s.

“It was the way I was brought up,” Arnold said. “Treat people like it’s a family restaurant. Like my father’s restaurant was Weeks Family Restaurant.”

His dad then bought the Red Blazer in 1984. By 1991, however, Arnold was ready to spread his wings. He bought the building on Loudon Road, an abandoned business that lay silent, once home to a Dairy Queen and a beauty salon.

He worked long days for a year, early morning until late at night, establishing himself, smiling and engaging customers, offering homemade ice cream by the mid-1990s.

For 27 years it’s been Arnie’s, and that won’t change. Asked if she planned to change the name, Witts texted me, “Oh heck no.”

She’ll take over the staff that Arnold put together and, somehow, managed to keep together, at least for the most part.

Abbey Isidorio of Deerfield, a 19-year-old student at NHTI, started working at Arnie’s last spring and told me: “I don’t see myself leaving for a long time. I love this place. Everyone has each other’s back.”

Out in the dining area, shortly before the main lunch rush started, Richard Walter Sr. and his wife, Ruth Walter, waited for their food, Richard the Arnie Dog, Ruth the Arnie Burger. They’ve been married for 51 years and have stuck with Arnie’s since first checking it out about five years ago.

When they heard the news, they grew concerned.

“It was disappointing at first,” Richard said. “I’m happy who he sold it to.”

Added Ruth, “We thought that if anyone bought it, they might get rid of the people who work here.”

No chance.

Arnold plans to travel with his wife, Tootie, in their RV, perhaps one day driving to the West Coast.

Witts? She’s got a business to maintain, a reputation to uphold, ice cream to serve, sometimes to lots of kids.

Like this past Tuesday, when the field trip from Warren rolled into the parking lot. A dozen children ordered chocolate, two others got vanilla.

Something called the twist, a combo of the two flavors, was the biggest hit, with 22 kids ordering that. The two contrasting flavors blended nicely in the cup despite a distinct color line.

And Witts and Arnold expect to blend nicely as well.

“Okay,” the boss said through the little sliding screen, the part-timer looking on. “Who do we have first?”




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