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Manito Park Bench Cafe serving Ben & Jerry’s ice cream opens

UPDATED: Sun., July 12, 2020

Ben & Jerry’s employee Abby Wood assists customers Amesley Herron, 2, and her mom, Beth Herron, at the Park Bench in Manito Park on Sunday in Spokane. Ben & Jerry’s won a competitive seven-way bid to operate the Park Bench this summer and plans to operate in the location until October.  (Libby Kamrowski)
Ben & Jerry’s employee Abby Wood assists customers Amesley Herron, 2, and her mom, Beth Herron, at the Park Bench in Manito Park on Sunday in Spokane. Ben & Jerry’s won a competitive seven-way bid to operate the Park Bench this summer and plans to operate in the location until October. (Libby Kamrowski)
By Kip Hill and Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

Masked families stood in line for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on a sunny Sunday at the Manito Park Bench Cafe’s opening weekend.

Owner of the local Ben & Jerry’s franchise, Kari Conner, was awarded the contract on Thursday and opened the Park Bench Cafe the next day.

“We were able to just turn it around really quick and get open because it was going to be such a beautiful weekend,” Conner said. “This is such an iconic gem in our city, everybody knows about the Manito Park Bench Cafe.”

Customers were already enjoying their ice cream as part of their usual park walk.

Kika Finch often comes to the park with her son Jack and his two children {span}Amalia{/span}, 5, and Jack Jr., 7.

On Sunday the kid brought their abuela’s dog, Mimi, along, too.

“They’ve always had pretty good service here,” Jack said. “It’s kind of fun to take a little walk and get a treat.”

The local Ben & Jerry’s was selected from seven organizations that bid to offer services at Manito Park Bench Cafe this summer, according to the Spokane Parks Department. The cafe was built in 1923 and typically serves food and drinks from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but has been shuttered so far this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Parks Department had signed a contract with Lancer Food Holdings, LLC, in April to provide exclusive food services for a five-year period at the Park Bench, the U.S. Pavilion, Sky Ribbon Cafe, Looff Carrousel and Dwight Merkel Sports Complex. Lancer made the decision to suspend operations until spring of next year due to the coronavirus outbreak, said Amy Lindsey, programming and marketing manager for Riverfront Park, and officials tried to quickly secure a replacement for this summer.

“We said, we’ve got to get someone else in there,” Lindsey said.

That push applies not only to the Park Bench Cafe, but also services at the Sky Ribbon Cafe near the Numerica Skate Ribbon and SkyRide gondolas. Lindsey said the park had made an agreement with Adam Hegsted’s Eat Good Group to operate the cafe in downtown, a partnership that should be up and running in the next several weeks.

The Eat Good Group, which includes the downtown restaurants Wandering Table, the Yards Bruncheon, the Gilded Unicorn and Incrediburger & Eggs, will have control over the menu, just as Ben & Jerry’s was allowed to create the sandwiches and other items that will soon be available at the Park Bench Cafe, Lindsey said.

“They’re doing great,” Lindsey said on Friday afternoon, just as Ben & Jerry’s launched their operations of the Park Bench. “Ice cream and water were our No. 1 sellers there, so it’s the perfect fit.”

Lindsey said the plan is to return control of the eateries to Lancer next year.

With such short notice, the Park Bench Cafe served just ice cream over the weekend but will start serving a full menu of sandwiches and salads on Monday.

They will serve local coffee from Roast House and offer vegan and vegetarian options for both food and ice cream.

“People like to come on their lunch hour and do a little walk and hopefully swing by and get something they can eat,” Conner said.

One drink that Conner said she is excited about is the slush, a combination of sparkling water and sorbet.

“It’s very light. It’s healthy,” Conner said. “It’s just a light refreshing type drink.”

When it comes to COVID, Conner said they haven’t had to make big changes. Employees are wearing masks and signage is posted asking customers to wear masks as they approach the counter.

“We already practiced good hygiene so we’re just wearing masks now,” Conner said. “Customers have been really good about wearing masks up to the counters. So everybody is just more aware of it I think.”

Retired Eastern Washington University mathematics professor Ron Dalla is a self proclaimed regular at the Park Bench Cafe.

“I’ve been waiting for it to open,” Dalla said.

Dalla drove his red convertible down to the park to pick up a cup of berry sorbet.

“I’m excited to see what kind of food they have,” Dalla said.

Dalla’s only complaint? “I was hoping it would be a little warmer,” he said with a chuckle.

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