AUBURN — When William and Gretchen Christenson bought a kitchen for one business, they signed themselves up for another.

The Christensons are the owners of Sweet William's Ice Cream Cafe, which opened June 30 in the former Poppy's on Mattie Street. Like Poppy's — which closed last year but continues as an ice cream truck of the same name — Sweet William's serves the dessert by the scoop in dishes or cones, hard or soft. Ice cream sandwiches, lemon ice and soda are also available.

But the Christensons didn't buy the former Poppy's for its ice cream counter. They bought it for its commercial kitchen, which Gretchen will use to prepare sweets for another business: Gretchen's Confections. Set to open later this summer at 27 E. Genesee St., the shop will sell truffles, bonbons, caramels and other chocolates handmade by its namesake.

Gretchen studied chocolatiering in Seattle, as the Christensens lived in Tacoma before moving to central New York last year. They moved to be closer to her family, William said. He had retired from a career in construction and she had graduated from culinary school, so they asked themselves where they wanted their girls, Desi and River, to grow up. They chose central New York because Gretchen has family in Skaneateles, including a 94-year-old grandmother from whom they now live two miles down the road. Her parents live in Vermont.

Plus, Gretchen said, central New York is just "my favorite place in the country."

Gretchen moved to that favorite place hoping to do her favorite thing in chocolatiering. Drawn to its alchemy, where a 1-degree temperature difference could spell disaster, she studied it in the classroom and interned with professionals in Seattle's rich chocolate scene. When the Christensons moved to central New York, Gretchen wanted to start her own sweet shop in her new setting.

The search for a commercial kitchen led her and William to Poppy's. But as Gretchen went to work there a few months ago, she had visitors. Children and adults alike would poke their heads into the ice cream parlour, asking if its new owners were going to reopen it. So they checked what it would take to do that — just a few code inspections, William said. 

"It was in top-notch condition," William said. "Very turnkey."

A few months ago, the Christensons reopened the shop as Sweet William's Ice Cream Cafe. And it didn't take long for the Mattie Street neighborhood to welcome them. One girl was passing by when she saw the "open" sign and shouted to her mother, "There's ice cream in there now, I know it!" William said. Other children have said, "I hope you never close," Gretchen added.

The Christensons are taking it slow with Sweet William's. They have an espresso machine, but they're in no hurry to serve it in the summer heat. When the temperature drops, they could add warming fare like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Birthday parties with ice cream cakes are another possibility. And the shop's hours will adjust accordingly, they said. 

For now, the family is happy they can plug one new business into another — and serve as a community hub in the process.

"We want to create a sense of community, a place where people will come in to feel good, make memories and enjoy themselves," Gretchen said. "I love watching people come in here and the smiles on their faces and the kids whipping around on these stools. Everybody's happy, and everybody loves ice cream."

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


I'm the features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com, and have been here since 2006. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.