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Homemade ice cream has healing powers

Youth connects with customers while serving fresh, frozen dessert

POSTED: August 6, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Making homemade ice cream


Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More employee Amanda Wheelis pours chocolate ice cream mix into the mechanical churn at the shop in Helen.

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For Kathy Lemoine, owner of Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More, the path to owning a ice cream business was an unconventional one.

Lemoine and her son, Andrew Reaster, first encountered their business’ current location in Helen when then-13-year-old Reaster started creating marble necklaces. Reaster, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, created so many necklaces Lemoine realized she couldn’t cope with the volume. Asperger’s is a developmental disorder resembling autism characterized by impaired social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviors and activities, and normal language and cognitive development.

“He made 500 marble necklaces,” Lemoine said. “I worked at a doctor’s office and I’m a single mom, so I was like ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these.’”

Lemoine and Reaster ended up selling the necklaces at a boutique in Helen. The owner, Gabby McKay, also owned a homemade ice cream joint called The Peach. One circumstance led to another and ultimately McKay took Reaster under his wing. At the time Reaster was “low-functioning,” or mostly nonverbal, when he began working at The Peach in 2008. McKay taught Reaster how to make the homemade ice cream The Peach was famous for, and even placed the young boy behind the counter.

It wasn’t long before Lemoine saw a dramatic improvement in her autistic son’s ability to connect with others. He began speaking more and making eye contact, two accomplishments that often prove elusive to autistic individuals. Lemoine associates Reaster’s progress with his time spent serving customers ice cream.

“We never expected what happened,” Lemoine said. “The job was very labored and the way my son asks ‘How can I help you?’ was very rude to some people, but it was unbelievable to us.”

When McKay died in 2009, Lemoine was faced with the frightening prospect of her son regressing into his former almost non-verbal state. She could not accept that.

“My son started going back into his little shell after two months, and I was like ‘No, no, no, no,’” the single mother said.

Lemoine quickly came up with a drastic, yet tasty solution: She bought the store and ice cream-making equipment from McKay’s son. In 2010, she reopened the property as Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More.

Reaster, now 19, graduated from high school with a regular diploma and attends Georgia Gwinnett College.

“Talking to him, you would not at this point know he has Asperger’s,” Lemoine said.

Reaster’s college duties now take him away from Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More except for the occasional weekend. Now Lynn Pacas, the store’s “mixologist,” is responsible for making the ice cream.

Pacas uses store-bought ingredients and fresh fruit for the hand-dipped ice cream, which she creates in an old-fashioned churn. It takes about an hour for Pacas to mix a new batch, which includes the time it takes to put together the ingredients and 45 minutes to churn it.

Pacas’ favorite part of her job is coming up with new flavors. The store serves an average of 38 flavors at one time, including some Pacas created from customer suggestions.

“I love to hear what they want to have,” Pacas said. “I’ve tried to come up with quite a few flavors this summer. I think I’ve added 12 new flavors, with some new ones on the way.”

New additions this summer include mango and tiramisu made from chocolate and coffee ice cream with added cream cheese.

“I love the option of having flavors they don’t offer in the store,” Pacas said. “I haven’t had anybody try (the tiramisu) and not like it.”

Pacas, whose favorite flavor is peanut butter, said vanilla is the most popular at the Helen-based store.

Whatever the recipe, the final product seems to work its magic on customers.

Most customers are repeats with some traveling long distances to eat the ice cream again. Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More was so busy over the July Fourth weekend that both lids on the store’s industrial freezers broke, but it wasn’t for nothing. Pacas estimates the store cashed in a $10,000 weekend.

The reason behind its popularity is the same reason Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More should be crowned North Georgia’s favorite homemade ice cream, the owner said.

“The flavor. That’s it,” Lemoine said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

In addition to supplying its customers with tasty frozen treats, a portion of all proceeds at Homemade Ice Cream Gifts and More go to autism research. But the store’s philanthropic efforts don’t end there. Lemoine hopes to one day start a type of work-study program with the special education students at White County schools in the hopes someone will reap the same benefits as Reaster did.

“It has made all the difference in the world for my son,” Lemoine said.


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