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Four Seas Ice Cream - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

Enjoying the Timeless Appeal of Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.

Why locals and vacationers have returned time and time again to this epic Cape Cod landmark

Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, Mass. (Cape Cod)
Four Seas Ice Cream.

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 5/22/2019.


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The homemade ice cream served, stories told and memories created make Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass., as much a beloved Cape Cod destination as its beaches, sand dunes, lighthouses, quaint villages and seafood.

Looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, customers sit closely together on swivel stools at the old-fashioned counter enjoying ice cream, sundaes, sodas and frappes. It's like being in an old-fashioned diner, but here customers get to eat their dessert first.
Some, however, do like to have their meal before dessert, feasting on lobster sandwiches that hold more meat than most of the famed lobster rolls in the region.

Despite the overwhelming societal presence of SmartPhones and other 21st century technologies impeding true social interaction, visitors joyfully often choose to take the way-back machine at Four Seas conversing with fellow neighbors, as well as friends they haven't met yet. Additionally, customers don't mind the somewhat ramshackle, weathered white and blue painted wooden former blacksmith shop that was first built on sand. The charm and character stands in stark contrast to some of the sterile, contrived and -- no pun intended -- cold ice cream places of today.

People love the surroundings as much as the ice cream. It's like one big family outing every summer day and night.


Crowds at Four Seas Ice Cream, Cape Cod.
Lively scene at Four Seas. Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

"The season opening of Four Seas Ice Cream is as important and significant an event as the anticipated return of warmer temperatures and endless summer nights," said Doug Meehan, a Cape Cod native and anchor and reporter at WCVB-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, Mass. "For both locals and visitors alike, summer would not be complete without a scoop or two -- or three or four -- of their delicious frozen treat. Visiting the Centerville staple has become a tradition that spans generations. Whether it’s after a full day at the beach, break from a summer job or last stop on a night out, Four Seas has become a must have. In addition to the joy experienced by customers, the kids that work the counter are significantly affected by the experience as well. Friendships are formed with every scoop during this coveted summer job." The virtues of a beloved traditional routine never went away since Four Seas' opening in 1934. The 800 sq. ft retail space sells up to 900 cones on a peak day and 2,000 gallons a week.
Five thousand gallons of ice cream need to be ready around Memorial Day Weekend for the kickoff of the prime season.

Freeer room at Four Seas Ice Ceam in Centerville, Mass.
Four Seas owner Doug Warren in the freezer area (you can see the cold in the air here!) with a seemingly endless supply of homemade ice cream.

Four Seas reigns not only as the oldest ice cream shop on Cape Cod, but also one of the longest standing in New England -- and amongst one of the most famous in America.  Major media has written and reported on the virtues of Four Seas Ice Cream including Yankee Magazine, USA Today, Travel + Leisure, Fox News, Cape Cod Life, The Phantom Gourmet and a list of others seemingly the length of the Cape Cod shoreline.

Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass., has earned many awards and media attention.
This wall at Four Seas shows a fraction of media attention and industry recognition that the legendary ice cream parlor has received through the years.

In the summer, lines can form up to 35 minutes, but most customers don't seem to mind. The ice cream and overall experience are that good.
Additionally, in a world that often favors the trendy flavor of the week, Four Seas remains true to form with little change in its ice cream flavors and storefront appearance through the years. It's almost like the business has been shielded from the growing trendy Cape Cod tourist attractions and businesses displacing the charming old Cape Cod that we have come to know and love.

Old-fashioned ice cream parlor charm at Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Old-fashioned charm at Four Seas.

Like the close-knit village of Centerville in which it resides, people come together at Four Seas as a means to feel a sense of belonging. The nostalgic feeling drives the community together even closer as they feel the glories of the past while enjoying the moment in a place that has changed little.

Four Seas Ice Cream at night in Centerville, Mass.I
Ice cream at night on Cape Cod.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

"My favorite memories are bringing my three boys there for lunch and ice creams," said Dom Botolino, a local school teacher. "Always a special treat!"

It's really the perfect setting for ice cream -- that is, a place where childhood memories have been made no matter what age. People may love their ice cream, but they appreciate just as much the presence of Four Seas in its old school magnificence.

Counter at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, MA (Cape Cod)
Old-fashioned ways of a Cape Cod ice cream parlor.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

"I love that in an ever-changing world, something stays constant," said Doug Warren, who owns Four Seas Ice Cream with his wife Peggy. "If the floors changed here, there would be a mutiny!"


From the beginning and through the years

W. Wells Watson opened the store with its name taken from part of a Mable Phinney poem, Cape Cod Calls. The Four Seas comprises the Atlantic Ocean, Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound although one could argue that the Atlantic serves as the only true sea while the others just lead to the mighty ocean.

W. Wells Watson, the original owner of Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
W. Wells Watson, the first owner of Four Seas.
Photo, courtesy of Four Seas Ice Cream.

Dick Warren, a Saugus, Mass., native and 1957 graduate of the Boston University School of Education, responded in 1956 to a help wanted newspaper ad for a manager position at Four Seas. Warren also met his future wife, Georgia Swift, who had worked at the Four Seas Counter starting in 1954 as a sophomore in high school. Warren loved the business so much, he bought it from Watson in 1960
and had one of the greatest runs in local small business history. Dick not only became known as the owner of Four Seas but also became a respected local figure as an educator in the Barnstable Public School system where he taught English and public speaking, as well as serving as a guidance counselor the last 15 years before retiring. One year after meeting, they married on Labor Day Weekend. Dick also found many future employees (honor level course students only) at Four Seas from the local halls of public education. Employees called him "The Chief" in regards to his strong presence and leadership qualities and admired that he held two demanding jobs, and gave back to his community in many ways. He even wrote a book entitled The Complete Idiot's Guide to Homemade Ice Cream. Along the way, Warren suffered through tragedies, including a divorce from Georgia (Dick late remarried to Linda Joyal in 1984), and the traumatic loss of son, Randy, who was killed in a car accident at 22. Dick tragically died in a skiing accident in 2008.

Father and son: Doug and Dick Warren, generational owners of Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
Doug and Dick share a happy moment (there were many) at Four Seas. Photo, courtesy of Four Seas.

Doug, Dick's son, and his wife Peggy -- having met in Las Vegas, Nev., and then marrying in 1999 --  carry on the glorious tradition of Four Seas since taking over the business in 2001. The prospects were good on continuing the success. Doug had an association with the business from virtually the beginning ("I remember being out back in the play pen when my mom was making sandwiches.") and lots of relevant work experience. Dick had strong faith in his son's work ethic and ability. Peggy's interest in the business, her integrity and social grace with customers at the front end of the store proved a natural for being a vital part of Four Seas. Dick stayed on for several years to make the transition easier.

Doug and Peggy have held onto most of the old-time traditions of Four Seas Ice Cream, knowing the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Several custom-made ice cream flavors have been added to the menu, but the overall selection has changed little since the 1960s. Doug and Peggy have also expanded Four Seas ice cream availability into local restaurants and local markets, as well as keeping the store open year-round (selling pints and quarts). They also created a thriving ice cream cake business at Four Seas -- quite popular for special events and ceremonies. In fact when Doug and Peggy married just up the road at Craigville Beach, the groom made an ice cream cake for the wedding!

Ice Cream wedding cake created by Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, Mass.
Example of a wedding cake from Four Seas. Photo source: Four Seas Instagram page.

Also like father, like son, Doug hires from the local high schools (honor roll students only). Some students are from the third generation of employees working at Four Seas. Many lifelong friendships and even some marriages have evolved from working together at the storied ice cream parlor.

Doug and Peggy also prioritize the kids being able to do math without calculators.

"They need to know how to do math," said Doug.


For many years, Doug taught as a math teacher and Peggy worked in the local Sherriff's office, so the double duties proved extremely challenging, at times.

"We just didn't sleep," said Peggy.

Doug and Peggy eventually did transition the business to year-round, making it their full-time jobs. The winters bring a brisk business -- literally and figuratively -- as locals stop by to buy pints and quarts. The Christmas holiday season also takes on a different kind of joy as Doug and Peggy design an elaborate, spectacular model Christmas Village and Train Display. It's an extremely popular seasonal attraction, artfully created...

Christmas village display at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
Christmas Village and Train Display at Four Seas. Photo credit: Four Seas Instagram page.

Doug and Peggy have never looked back, knowing they had made the right choice to go full-time working at Four Seas -- even with the crazy hours put in during the summer.
That means virtually no time off for Doug and Peggy during a time of the year when, ironically, people enjoy vacation time but they don't mind. This is a lifestyle more than a job.

Doug and Peggy Warren, owners of Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.

A more recent photo of Doug and Peggy. Photo, courtesy of Doug.

"Seeing others happy is something that makes us happy," said Peggy.

How Four Seas differs from other ice cream places

Black raspberry ice cream from Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, Mass.
Black raspberry ice cream.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.
  
Let's face it, so many high-quality ice cream places exist in New England that it's hard to say one offers better ice cream than the other. Doug and Peggy know this and have wisely chosen to carry on the Four Seas tradition of doing things a bit differently. For example, June brings fresh local strawberries that Four Seas Ice Cream includes in the strawberry ice cream (and with no artificial flavors and colorings). The taste is fresher than any other strawberry ice cream we have ever tasted in New England.

"The ice cream is made with local Cape Cod berries grown literally down the street from Four Seas," said Doug. "They're picked one day and made into ice cream the following days. We basically chop them up, add a little sugar and we're done. And we sell it as long as we make it. We try to make as much as we can during the two-week growing season, get as many boxes from our local growers as they'll sell us, And as soon as they stop producing strawberries, we stop making fresh strawberry ice cream and go back to using frozen strawberries."

It should be noted that while the fresh strawberry ice cream is heaven on earth, the version using frozen fruit is much better than many other ice cream places in New England. That's the result of tradition and continued mastery of a craft!

Four Seas strawberry ice cream (Cape Cod)
Strawberry ice cream. Photo credit: Four Seas Ice Cream

The same quality goes into the peach ice cream, too, with fresh peaches bought around the beginning of July from Georgia and the Carolinas and sold in fabulous ice cream form for about two months at Four Seas. Cantaloupe gets the same treatment with fresh fruit bought at its peak in June, ripened on the shelves a few more days, and then diced and mixed with a small amount of sugar into a blender before becoming pureed for extra flavor. What could have been an artificial tasting ice cream tastes just like cantaloupe. Imagine that!

Cantaloupe ice cream from Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, MA.
Cantaloupe ice cream.
Photo, courtesy of Four Seas.

"Fruit goes bad," said Doug. "And we don't have air conditioning here. When the peaches are delivered, for example, they are used by the next day."

Lemon crisp bursts with real lemon flavor and enough sugar to keep things from going sour. Chip chocolate -- with a reversed name signifying the taste of chips -- takes on an outstanding variation of chocolate chip ice cream, according to Doug.


"We use a 10-pound block of quality chocolate, heat it and pour the liquid into the ice cream," said Doug. "The chips split up all over the place in the vanilla ice cream and at different sizes. You can taste the chocolate immediately."

The chip chocolate tastes completely different than a typical chocolate chip ice cream -- real chocolate compared to preformed has that effect, no doubt!

Penuche Pecan is another favorite with its old-fashioned brown sugar flavor and fudge taste. The melted brown sugar becomes part of the ice cream -- not dissimilar to the chocolate in the chip chocolate.

Penuche ice cream with melted brown sugar from Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Penuche Pecan.

The Four Seas way is, ultimately, to favor old-fashioned ice cream flavors with straightforward names.  You won't see any colorfully-named ice cream flavors here or any multiple mix-in options.

"My parents were purists," said Doug. "You won't find any Chocolate by Death stuff here. It's all gadgetry. We serve simple flavors although there is complexity in making those simple flavors. We use three different chocolates to create a chocolate ice cream. We are not fans of mix-ins, either. You start to lose the flavor of the ice cream by putting other things in. I don't like that."

The small working space directly in back of the front end of the ice cream parlor yields the endless love for Four Seas Ice Cream. It's not exactly high-tech and glossy like an ice cream factory, but work gets done at a good pace -- probably even more so than about six years ago when the motorized machine seen in the photo below was a hand-cranked version.

Ice cream being made at Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Doug makes some ice cream at Four Seas on an updated machine.

"We updated, we had to," said Doug. "The repetitive motion on a hand-cranked could be tough, especially with all the ice cream that we make!"

Freezer area at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
Freezer at Four Seas.

Doug said that while Four Seas makes it ice cream with a high butterfat content, it doesn't go to the maximum percentage used in many super premium ice creams.

"If you have too much butterfat content, you can just taste more of the cream," said Doug. "The flavor might not come out as much. I feel we strike a good balance."

The significant fan base certainly validates the Four Seas way of creating ice cream.

"They are an awesome Mom and Pop ice cream shop with deliciously fresh flavors," said "Joanna C," a long-time customer. "This cash-only establishment is everything you want from an ice cream shop. The fresh flavors, long lines on hot summer days, fresh flavors making the line worth it, and local high school kids running the show and impressively doing all the math in their head. My personal favorite are the Mint and Mocha Chip, but on a hot summer day their fresh Strawberry and fresh Peach flavors should not be missed!"

Peach ice cream from Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Peach ice cream.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

But then again, you could just go with the banana split sundae!

Banana split sundae from Four Seas Ice Cream, Cape Cod.
Banana split ice cream.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

What's more, it's not just the ice cream that makes the flavors so special. Homemade hot fudge is made on a regular basis...

Peggy Warren makes hot fudge at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
Peggy pours some hot fudge.

The result: something as special as the ice cream itself!

Homemade hot fudge from Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
Hot fudge from Four Seas.

The whipped cream takes on an irresistible form, too, so much better than the store bought brands -- no comparison, in fact.

Homemade whipped cream from Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Homemade whipped cream.

Four Seas also does a fine job with its food selections, also, most notably the lobster sandwich mentioned earlier in the story (they also serve lobster rolls). They also offer jumbo hot dogs, chili dogs, chili cheese dogs, soups and chili, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese and olive, egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, sliced ham sandwich, ham and cheese, sliced turkey and turkey and cheese.

Lobster sandwich from Four Seas in Centerville, Mass.
Lobster sandwich from Four Seas. Photo, courtesy of Four Seas.

"I have been going there since high school," said Carol Sammons Julius, who is in her 50s and a selectwoman for the Town of East Bridgewater, Mass. "Their peach ice cream is the best!"

Stories of peoples' connections to Four Seas Ice Cream

The thrills of tasting Four Seas ice cream in Centerville, Mass.
Classic ice cream scene.
Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan page.

History indeed proves that Four Seas Ice Cream has become as much as the Cape Cod land and seascapes as the beaches, sand dunes, lighthouses, seafood restaurants and unique, quaint villages. Customers and employees confirm that glorious history through what seems like instant memories created.

Cases-in-point: One former Cape Cod resident needed to know before moving back to her native land that Four Seas was still open -- that was part of the decision-making process. A wealthy man from the The Netherlands loved Four Seas ice cream so much that he had $50 of the frozen treat shipped overseas for $500. A young man once wanted to propose to his girlfriend at Four Seas with a plan to put the ring in the bottom of a cone filled with ice cream. Staff suggested to come up with a different plan, given the potential choking hazard. And over in Afghanistan, a U.S. American Soldier made sure to wear his Four Seas cap whenever possible.

One couple, attending a wedding at a church up the street, found a way to walk to Four Seas for some ice cream, before the reception. For the record, that was me and my wife.
 
The personal stories could fill a book, and they actually have.
Peggy's daughter, Heather Wysocki, wrote an absolutely fabulous book entitled Four Seas Ice Cream: Sailing Through the Sweet History of Cape Cod's Favorite Ice Cream Parlor. Heather covers the history, her hometown, the special memories, the ice cream, and the challenges and tragedies along the way. She has written in a highly personal style that brings the reader right into Four Seas -- whether they have been there or not.  Wysocki, a Suffolk University graduate and former reporter at the Cape Cod Times, writes in a beautiful style -- a mix of a professional journalist and enthusiastic hometown girl who happens to have an incredible gift for writing. Back in the day at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass.
A nostalgic scene at Four Seas. Photo, courtesy of Four Seas.

The book is available at major brick and mortar and online booksellers including Amazon.

"She did an amazing job with the book," said proud mom Peggy.


Celebrities Who Have Visited Four Seas

With its working-class roots forever in place, Four Seas never went Hollywood although many of its customers have a connection to that fabled west coast celebrity community. Bob Hope, Adam Sandler, Steven Tyler, Gene Rayburn, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Eddie Murphy, Taylor Swift, and former football star Rosie Grier have been amongst the set of famous people enjoying Four Seas Ice Cream.

"We could cover the walls with celebrities who have come here," said Doug.

Most of the celebrities were quite pleasant and a big hit at the ice cream shop, according to Doug.

"Taylor (Swift) was there signing autographs and smiling at everyone," said Doug. "She was so nice. Bob and Dolores Hope were here in the 1970s after Bob performed at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. After the show, a limo would arrive here. She would try many flavors. He was so tired, he would pretty much pass out in the car. She, on the other hand, would just talk and talk!"

Given the local Cape Cod roots, the Kennedy family has held the deepest connection as public figures to Four Seas Ice Cream. Jackie O would come to Four Seas but not into the store -- the Secret Service did that. JFK's presence drove people to do the most extraordinary things. One lady dumped her ice cream cone into the trash so she could get back in line to be near him. Another lady put her ice cream cone in her purse so that she could watch JFK.

We have countless stories," said Doug. "That's just a part of the fun behind this place."


Conclusion

Four Seas Ice Cream, Centerville, Massachusetts.
Approaching Four Seas from the parking lot.

Each generational owner has cared for Four Seas through hard work, love for the profession, and a genuine connection to the community. Sure, celebrities and media have helped make the ice cream parlor more visible but, ultimately, the relationship between owners, customers and delicious ice cream has created the most simple recipe for long-term success. No owners ever did it solely for the money, the glory or the fame. Lucky for locals and vacationers who have discovered this Cape Cod treasure.

Four Seas is simply a must-visit Cape Cod attraction. It's not just for the wonderful ice cream flavors, but also the overall experience. Here's a case where history repeating itself yields an epic old-time Cape Cod destination that truly never gets old!

"We are glad to carry on that tradition," said Doug. "Four Seas is really part of the Cape Cod that people love."


Four Seas Ice Cream is located at 360 South Maine St. in Centerville, MA. Tel.  508-775-1394.
Log onto the Four Seas Web Site and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more information.

If you're looking to bring home some delicious chicken pies to complement your Four Seas ice cream, check out Centerville Pie Co. a few miles up the road. Oprah Winfrey loves the pies so much here that she featured them on her TV show and in her O Magazine!

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Four Seas in Centerville, Mass., is a must-see, famous Cape Cod family destination. This ice cream parlor has been around since 1934 and specializes in homemade ice cream including flavors made from fresh strawberries, peaches and cantaloupe.


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