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Fans of Magic Fountain know there is never a bad time of day — or year — to stop in for a scoop or three of one of the Mattituck ice cream parlor’s signature flavors.
That’s how on a random spring morning, shortly after 10 a.m., Tom Goulding found himself seated on a bench outside the Main Road mainstay sampling a cup of chili chocolate ice cream.
“It is a staple stop,” he said. “When you’re in town, you can’t just drive by. The flavors are different than any other ice cream you’ll try.”
Goulding is not alone in making Magic Fountain a must-stop destination.
Owner Choudry Ali said the business has hundreds of devoted customers who enjoy the dynamic, original flavors, such as honey lavender, rose water, black cherry bourbon, goat cheese and cucumber — not to mention all the traditional flavors you’ll still find there.
“Who doesn’t like the ice cream here?” said Kae Lieblein on a recent trip to Magic Fountain with her granddaughter. “The flavors are amazing.”
At any given time, there are 50 varieties to choose from at Magic Fountain. It can be said with certainty there is really no slow time of the year for the shop, where, come Father’s Day weekend, lines start forming as early as 8:30 a.m.
“Listening to our customers is what sets us apart,” Ali said. “If they want a certain flavor, and I think I can sell it, I’ll put it on the menu. We try to think outside of the box with our flavors.”
Born in Pakistan, Ali, 51, arrived in the United States when he was 18 years old. He took a swing at working in corporate America in New York City before meeting his wife, Journey, and settling in Riverhead Town.
“I love working with my hands,” he said. “A corporate job wasn’t for me … My wife grew up in Mattituck and she brought me here. She said, ‘You can have the world here.’ ”
In 2007, the Alis purchased Magic Fountain. The couple wore many hats for the first couple of years, from cashier to ice cream maker, as they aimed to grow the business. Infusing new flavors into the regular lineup was a natural next step for Ali, after mastering the art of making the ice cream from scratch in the 1,200-square-foot storefront.
“It was just the basic flavors then,” he said. “They only had 10 or 12 flavors and it was bought from Hershey. To me, it was a little boring. It was not working for me.”
Ali started experimenting with new flavors the first winter owning the business by making the now-signature black cherry bourbon late one night while sipping Jack Daniels.
“I was making cherry vanilla and I dropped a couple cherries in my drink, and it was so good that I thought it had to go into an ice cream,” he recalled. “A couple of days later, I tried mixing it with chocolate to see what happened, and now I have people who come from New Jersey every month to by a half-gallon.”
In a day and age when big box stores buy out the mom-and-pops, Magic Fountain took the opposite trajectory. In July 1966, the shop initially opened as a Dairy Queen. When Dairy Queen began to change its recipes in the early ’70s, more than a dozen disappointed franchise owners banded together under the Magic Fountain brand to continue to operate their stores separately from Dairy Queen. By 1977, the Mattituck store was operating independently, though there are still four other unaffiliated Magic Fountain ice cream shops in Bay Ridge, New Jersey and Florida.
Here in Mattituck, Ali sticks with his own brand of homemade. It’s a blend of creative flavors and traditional, simple ingredients that comprises the magic. He is inspired by the seasonal ingredients at local farm stands, his employees’ and customers’ creative flavor desires and his own knack for mixing and matching unexpected tastes.
“I always enjoyed baking and I have a good sense of flavor combinations,” he said. “I just go around the grocery store and see what’s available to create something new.”
Ali now has a binder full of recipes he rotates with the seasons, offering special flavors for different holidays. In addition to the regular ice cream, Magic Fountain also offers vegan and sugar-free options, as well as custom cakes, elaborate sundaes and a host of syrups and toppings.
“We make it an experience for people,” Ali said. “It has become a stop when people visit the North Fork. The best part is seeing the customers enjoy it.”