Scarlet Scoop doors to re-open next week

At the corner of Barrow and Belanger streets in downtown Houma, the malteds will again be flowing, and children of all ages will be pointing at their choices among the array of confectionary garnishes for ice cream cones and ice cream cups that taste better because of hand-scooping from tubs almost smiling beneath glass freezer windows, or the refreshing respite that a cool, peaked frozen yogurt has on the tongue while sitting on an iron outdoor parlor chair during a lazy spring afternoon.

A Blue Bell Ice Cream truck made a stop at Scarlet Scoop, Houma’s signature locally-owned, old-fashioned ice cream parlor, last week, signaling an end to a year-long ice cream drought, and Katie Nelson, whose husband Bryan Nelson operates the place, confirmed Monday morning that the doors are expected to re-open next week.

“It was a year,” she said, referring to the closure necessitated by a recall of Blue Bell products nationwide, due to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes at some plant locations. “His last day was April 22 (2015), so it’s been a little over a year. It has been kind of rough.”

Bryan could not be reached for comment Monday, but Katie, who deals with the back-office aspects of the business, said everything is just about in place.

The shop with the landmark fuchsia facade might have been opened sooner, but a freezer compressor became a casualty due to the year-long disuse, and delivery was expected Monday. Other freezer cases in the shop are already being stocked with Blue Bell, the only ice cream brand Bryan has deemed good enough for his customers. He had vowed not to open until full distribution returned.

During the hiatus his store’s glass door was covered with multi-colored stick-ums with encouraging messages written upon them, like so many sprinkles on a cone.

“I don’t know how to live without king cake ice cream,” a lime-green note from a fan stated.

“Scarlet Scoop is the only thing keeping me alive,” read another note on a paper square the color of butterscotch scoop. “You’re killing me.”

“We love you! Come back soon,” intones another.

On Facebook and other social media Scarlet Scoop fans have continually lamented the loss.

“I am sure once we open everyone will be on Facebook talking about it,” Katie said. “It was heart-warming to hear that so many people missed their ice cream and now they are going to get it.”

While a firm date has not been set, Katie expressed no doubt that the opening will occur some time during the week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Blue Bell company itself confirmed last year that the troubles began after five cases of people becoming sick from Listeria in Kansas, all of whom had eaten Blue Bell ice cream, were reported.

Blue Bell issued the first recall in its history in March and the FDA began looking into the matter. The recall was widened March 24, 2015.

Listeria is a type of bacterium that can infect food, including frozen products. In some cases exposure can be fatal for humans.

Various fixes were announced by the company as, in April of last year, an FDA investigation determined that risks of listeria exposure were present at Blue Bell plants as far back as 2013.

By mid-May massive layoffs were announced.

Bryan traveled to Texas in May to meet with Blue Bell company officials. But he, like the ice cream-buying public at large, gained no useful information. Bryan had his own ice cream stock tested and no threat to Houma customers was determined to exist.

This year, Blue Bell has been rebuilding its brand with apparent success. Last month, a hiccup placed an unwanted spotlight on the company yet again, when accidental mislabeling of rocky road ice cream resulted in the presence of ingredients from another flavor that could have placed people with some food allergies at risk. There were no problems with the purity of the ice cream, however.

Bryan Nelson is the fourth owner of the Scarlet Scoop shop, which was opened in 1968 on the site of a former Sinclair gas station.

He began working there at the age of 15 and bought it a few years later, rescuing it from imminent closure in 1977, while still a student at South Terrebonne High School. •

Scarlet Scoop