Tim Cheek spotted them before they even opened the door to his Robbinsville shop.
Cheek, the owner of Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream and Treatery, rushed to greet the two unsuspecting young boys — one with a neon green cap that looked like a frog — as they entered his shop, handing each of them two stickers adorned with Maggie Moo, the shop’s sassy cow mascot. He offered their parents a warm hello and turned to the hat-wearing child with a smile.
“It ain’t easy being green,” Cheek said to the boy. “Isn’t that right, Buddy?”
The child nodded. And with that, the family had experienced Maggie Moo’s before even ordering ice cream.
Despite a growing customer base bolstered by the continued development of the Washington Town Center, where Maggie Moo’s has operated since August 2007, Cheek and his Maggie Moo’s staff direct their efforts to ensuring customers receive enough individual attention to feel as if they just walked into a contemporary version of an old-fashioned, small-town ice cream shop.
They differentiate their shop from competitors by chatting up visitors, handing children stickers and free samples of ice cream and allowing people to watch how Maggie Moo’s makes ice cream. And, of course, there’s the store’s namesake, a lipsticked bovine that takes as much pride in her style as she does in her ice cream.
“It’s not going out for ice cream,” Cheek said. “You’re coming in and getting stickers. It’s an old-fashioned ice cream place with state-of-the-art offerings. It’s not one of these places where you get your ice cream and you’re out the door.”
The philosophy of Maggie Moo’s, the second business that opened in the Washington Town Center smart-growth complex, blends well with the idea behind the pedestrian-friendly town center. It’s built so visitors can shop and — on a whim — grab a tomato pie at DeLorenzo’s then walk a few doors down to Maggie Moo’s for carrot cake ice cream in a waffle bowl.
Robbinsville resident Kristin Aquilino moved to the Town Center three years ago for that very reason. She said she loves that she can load her three children into the family’s blue wagon and haul the kids to Maggie Moo’s for a treat.
The Aquilinos did just that on a warm April afternoon, and four-year-old Isabella so thoroughly enjoyed her cotton candy ice cream that she shared some with her nose, elbows and shirt. The blue ring around her mouth proved Isabella did, in fact, consume some ice cream.
Aquilino and her husband plan to bring the children to Maggie Moo’s at least once a week now the weather is warmer. It’s a chance for the family to get out and for Aquilino, a teacher at Sharon Elementary School, to see some of her pupils.
“I love being able to walk places,” she said. “It brings the community together. Being a teacher, it’s nice to see the kids out of school.”
As tractors moved dirt and men worked on unfinished buildings in the distance, Aquilino spoke about how she brims with anticipation for the day she can walk to the completed Town Center.
But there’s been a huge difference in just a year, Cheek said, as business has picked up dramatically since Maggie Moo’s first opened.
At the time, InJeanous women’s boutique was the only other company open at Washington Town Center. Now, the center has more offerings, including a coffee shop, a bar and restaurant and numerous upscale clothing shops.
“Bringing a walkable city block here was a great idea,” Cheek said. “I think it’s a tremendous concept. I think it’s fascinating.”
But Maggie Moo’s has its own drawing power.
One highlight, of course, is the chance to meet Maggie Moo, if she isn’t out on the town. The mascot is usually in the shop five days a week in the early evening.
Maggie has built a fan base ranging from infants to teenagers, displaying the character’s broad appeal. Customers even call to ensure Maggie will be present before visiting the shop, and Cheek said that is the best method to catch a glimpse of the cow.
Despite the rock-star treatment, Maggie is just a normal Robbinsville resident, and people should feel like they’re at a neighbor’s house when they visit Maggie Moo’s, Cheek said.
“The whole idea about Maggie is she’s a normal girl around town,” Cheek said. “She’ll go to Marrazzo’s to food shop or Roma to bank or DeLorenzo’s. I never grow tired of the kid with the blue around the mouth from eating cotton candy ice cream asking where Maggie is.”
For those not interested in meeting the cow, there’s always the ice cream. The shop’s award-winning ice cream is made on the premises daily, and it offers creative treats like ice cream cupcakes, which are cupcakes topped with ice cream instead of icing. There are 52 flavors of ice cream, various low-fat smoothies and cakes.
The majority of customers stick to the basics — chocolate, vanilla or strawberry — and those who like the classics won’t feel cheated. Maggie Moo’s chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla, vanilla bean and strawberry flavors have won their categories in the National Ice Cream Retailers Association’s annual tasting for eight consecutive years.
Cheek does recommend vanilla lovers take advantage of the free samples offered by the shop and try something new. Maggie Moo’s prides itself on hard-to-find flavors like banana. Every batch of banana ice cream requires 18 bananas, Cheek said.
“It’s a specialty shop,” Cheek said. “I want you to be able to feast on whatever you want.”
One day in April, Hamilton resident Sharane Orendas feasted on some espresso ice cream with mixed-in espresso chips while her daughter, Lisa Roman, of Robbinsville, sat on a bench outside Maggie Moo’s. Orendas commended the shop for its variety of flavors and toppings and predicted nothing but success for Maggie Moo’s because of the choices.
Roman took a more business-oriented approach, touting pedestrian traffic in the Town Center as the key for any business there.
“This is going to do really good,” Roman said. “You got Santino’s [Bar One], which is really good, and DeLorenzo’s, which is excellent. With all the development around here, they are going to clean up.”