Four Seas Ice
Cream/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
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.
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz.
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,
white and blue painted wooden former blacksmith shop that was first
sand. The charm and character stands in stark contrast to some of the
sterile, contrived and -- no pun intended -- cold ice cream places of
People love the surroundings as much as the ice cream. It's like one
big family outing every summer day and night.
Lively scene at Four Seas. Photo source: Four Seas Facebook fan
"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
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
Four Seas reigns not only as the oldest ice cream
Cape Cod, but also one of the longest standing in New England -- and
amongst one of the most famous in America. Major media has
reported on the virtues of Four Seas Ice Cream including Yankee
Magazine, USA Today, Travel + Leisure, Fox News, Cape Cod Life, The
and a list of others seemingly the length of the Cape Cod shoreline.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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!
Example of a wedding cake from Four Seas. Photo source: Four
Seas Instagram page.
Also like father, like son, Doug hires from the
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 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
a lifestyle more than a job.
A more recent photo of Doug and Peggy. Photo, courtesy of Doug.
"Seeing others happy is something that makes us happy," said
How Four Seas differs from other ice cream places
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
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
and continued mastery of a craft!
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
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. Photo, courtesy
of Four Seas.
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,
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.
The Four Seas way is, ultimately, to favor old-fashioned ice cream
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
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
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. Photo source: Four
Seas Facebook fan page.
But then again, you could just go with the banana split sundae!
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 pours some hot fudge.
The result: something as special as the ice cream itself!
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.
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
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
Classic ice cream scene. Photo source:
Four Seas Facebook fan page.
History indeed proves that Four Seas Ice Cream has become as much as
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
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
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
A nostalgic scene at Four Seas. Photo, courtesy of Four Seas.
The book is available at major brick and mortar and online booksellers
"She did an amazing job with the book," said proud mom Peggy.
Celebrities Who Have Visited Four Seas
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
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."
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
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.
Log onto the Four Seas Web
Site and on Facebook, Twitter,
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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