Note: the farewell party at Sally’s is Saturday, Oct. 8, from 3 to 8 p.m. at Sally’s, 401 North Oceanshore Blvd.
What does Sally’s Ice Cream mean to this community?
Karen Barchowski heard the question this afternoon as she took a break from painting the grounds of the shop a metallic gray, a few days before it changes hands, its sale finalized. Barchowski is ending her decade as its longest-tenured owner.
“I don’t know what it means to everyone. I just know what we wanted to put forth,” Barchowski said. “And that is love and light and acceptance and diversity and just sunshine. It’s just love. I think that’s all it is. Honestly, if we come down to it, it’s just love. Love for each other. Love for diversity. Love for your fellow man. Acceptance of who you are, no matter who you love, what color of your skin. It’s a hug. I want Sally’s to be a hug.”
So it’s been these 10 years. So it was Friday afternoon as Barchowski got a few errant hugs, one from a Trump-hatted customer she’d never seen before and who told her: “You need seven a day, at least.”
“Well, I got three today,” Barchowski told her. The woman spoke of the shop’s “vibe,” a word you keep hearing around and about Sally’s.
To Debbie and Mark Deerwester, who moved to Bulow Plantation from Ohio a few months ago and who visit Sally’s frequently, it’s the nostalgic feel of the 1960s. To Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy, who’s seen Flagler Beach change for two decades, it’s the way the business has “maintained what the old Flagler Beach looks like. Some of the newer businesses, while I enjoy them, are conforming to more modern architecture,” Mealy says. “I’m not criticizing them, but we try to hold on to as much of the old Flagler Beach as we can, and I hope Sally’s stays as it is a long time.”
But there’s also that unique feel, sadly too unique in Flagler. That it should be so distinct isn’t necessarily encouraging, if it stands out so much because of it. If it’s an exception still crying to be a rule. And it’s part of the reason Barchowski is leaving. She’s tired of the battle.
“We decided very early on that we would care for her and put forth with our heart,” Barchowski said, “and we would not be quiet. We chose to basically practice our values through Sally’s instead of just professing them, along with also giving people the best that we had to give, as far as a product goes. Always.”
Battling aside, Barchowski’s years at Sally’s were bound to end anyway. There’s a point she reaches when she has to leave. She’s been doing so since her days in her native New Jersey. She left a restaurant she loved there to move to Florida. She left Canfield’s at Palm Harbor Golf Course in 2016 at the top of her game. She’s leaving Sally’s, even though it’s thriving.
She’s leaving Florida for her 28-acre farm in Vermont, where she’s re-gathered her family, some of whom have gone ahead of her, where she’ll be growing her own food and food enough to feed those in need.
“I like to take something to where I feel like I can’t take it any further,” she says. “And then I like to start all over again. There’s something wrong with my brain. But I enjoy that very much, to create something. It’s the creative process that I love.”
It wasn’t a rash decision. It’s been in the works for a year. But she knew. “When you know it’s time, you know. It’s in your gut. It’s in your heart. It’s in your soul,” she says. Hateful verbal drive-by missiles, some as recently as this week, take their toll. You know the kind. They’ve been gathering at that Flagler Beach corner of State Road A1A and State Road 100 for too long, occasionally leeching a few blocks north, blithering goons offended by accepting messages and rainbows plastered all over Sally’s facade–“teach peace,” “equality,” “humanity,” “justice,” “compassion,” “It’s OK to say gay,” the lyrics to Lennon’s “Imagine.” Some people find “Livin’ life in peace” offensive. The goons have called Barchowski a Marxist, a Communist, a terrorist and a few other slurs not worth repeating. Barchowsi doesn’t care for Little Gilead. Her farm in Vermont is beckoning, like the New England memories of her childhood trips there.
Barchowski grew up in New Jersey, the daughter and granddaughter of invincible women whose credo formed the arc of Barchowski’s purpose. You can see it spelled out next to a “Life Is Now In Session” sign on a door at Sally’s, a multicolor mini-constitution of one and two-word articles: “Welcome. All sizes. All colors. All ages. All sexes. All cultures. All religions.”
She was taught to give, and has been giving since. Feeding the hungry has been a running theme from Jersey to Flagler, where she was every year involved in preparing food for Feed Flagler. She doesn’t mark Thanksgiving so much as enable others to have their meal. Competition isn’t in her vocabulary. When Sandy Kinney got an ice cream truck in Flagler Beach and ran into obstacles at the City Commission a decade ago, Barchowski was among her staunchest advocates, even though the ice cream truck would be considered competition to Sally’s. It’s not how Barchowski saw it.
In New Jersey she owned a restaurant, Zen Den, for two years. She opened it because she’d gotten tired of a different version of divisiveness she witnessed around her (back then it was a bit less ideological and more along the lines of white collar against blue collar). She figured she’d open a place where everyone was welcome, and if anyone misbehaved, she could always use her boot. “It was magical. I still miss that place, because it was a gathering for everyone,” she says, whether Wiccan, religious, rich, poor, artsy or unlettered. No one ever sat alone. “It became itself. It wasn’t my hand that did it. It was maybe just the universe saying: Here you go.”
There’s been a lot of that in Barchowski’s life, not all of it necessarily easy, some of it downright vicious, though she’s reserved about the immense challenges she’s faced along the way, as if it’d be pointless to validate them with recall. What matters it seems is the here and now.
So there’s been unending life challenges. There was the move to Florida to be close to her parents and her sister, as she raised her three children and didn’t want them to be without family. She got her real estate license, did 101 jobs, as she recalls–from cleaning homes to putting down floors to serving at Hijackers’ at the county airport.
From 2009 to 2016 Barchowski was the chef at Canfield’s, the original restaurant at Palm Harbor Golf Club, winning the then-local Chamber of Commerce’s top honor for best restaurant in Palm Coast three years running. The place wasn’t the same after she left–to help a friend open a restaurant in St. Augustine–until the Green Lion took over in 2017. (Barchowski has followed the devolution of the Green Lion’s relationship with Palm Coast with dismay. The city severed its lease with the restaurant over the summer. “I think they’re making a very big mistake,” she said of the city.) In the early years at Canfield’s–the restaurant was named after Palm Coast’s first mayor–her financial standing improved. Sally’s came up for sale.
Barchowski was at a crossroads. She’s never liked working for others. She knew Sally’s well. It was down the street from where she lived. (The business has always been named after its original owner, Sally Horvath, who is now 83, still lives in Flagler Beach, still comes down to her old ice cream parlor for a cone once in a while. She did not return a call today.) Barchowski used to take her children there, and at times was the only place she had enough money for.
Barchowski and her family took over in 2012. “This is like my victory, my battle, like: now, I bought Sally’s. It was my hard work,” she says, pausing. “I don’t even have the words. I guess it showed my strength and my perseverance. It was like, nothing’s going to keep me down. And this is where we could go with hard work. And so we got her. How do you like that?”
It’s always been a family business, from Barchowski’s mother’s baking to her three children working, and growing up, in the business. “Everyone has had their hands in this,” Barchowski says. “My Madison, who’s my youngest, she started here when she was 15. And now she’s having a baby. So she grew up here and she’s been the general manager of the place after she went to college. She decided she just wants to own businesses like I did. And she’s been the heart and soul of Sally’s.”
And of moose tracks, double fudge brownie, cotton candy, black cherry, crazy cake, rocky road, almond joy, banana crunch, raspberry rhapsody, vegan strawberry and all those other swirls of flavors.
Hurricane Irma in 2017 wrecked the 400 square foot shop, forcing it shut for seven months. There was some doubt whether it could make it back. “The only reason that we are standing here is because of friends and family and the community people that stepped up to help when the contractors disappeared,” Barchowski says. Sally’s came back.
But the time to move on to the next next thing is a thing with Barchowski. Just today, she sealed the deal of her next thing. Sitting on the shaded, southern side of Sally’s, speaking on her phone, she bought her next restaurant. You know the name had a lot to do with it. It’s Revolution Kitchen on Center Street in Burlington, a reservation-only all vegan-vegetarian place. Revolution is Barchowski’s moniker.
At Sally’s, the new owners take over Nov. 1. All that Barchowski would reveal for now is their first names: Kim and Patrick. They’re like-minded, Barchowski says. Same vibe, same love of Sally’s as a hub of love. They’ve pledged to keep the same recipes and ice cream even as they undoubtedly put their own stamp on the place, even if they don’t have Barchowski’s mother to make the waffle cones, as she has for 10 years, from scratch. “We want them to be even more successful than us. So we’re here to help them,” Barchowski says.
There will be the inevitable goodbyes. Once a month Sally’s hosts an LGBTQ community gathering, to the usual acclaim for all things Sally’s. It’s happening again Saturday. But this edition is different. It’s a farewell from Karen and her family. There’ll be live music, a DJ, a celebration and a thank you “from me to the community, to all the people that have supported us and who have shown us the love,” she says. But she’ll always have ties in Flagler, and she’s keeping a house in Orange City. “There’s ties that will never be broken. And there’s some ties that I’m really happy will be broken.”
But it’s a loss all the same. Mealy, the city commissioner, isn’t kidding when she speaks of how much “I like Karen’s world. I wish I could live in it.”
“Aside from the delicious ice cream and gazillion flavors,” Mealy said this evening, “just Karen’s outlook on the world: I think it has carried over into how the busines is run, the peace and love, and let’s all get along kind of thing, which is why I was hoping the new people would be much the same. we have other good ice cream stores in town, I’m not going to take away from them. Two others I enjoy as well. But they don’t have that feel about them that Sally’s does. I’m glad to hear they’re going to maintain that.”
Those who’ve been living in Karen Barchowski’s world or in its suburbs, those who aren’t going to Vermont, depend on it.
“It really has been one hell of a ride, I can tell you that,” Barchowski says. “There’s been so many ups and there’s been the downs, and there’s been tears and there’s been so many things. But at the end of the day, in the midst of those trials and tribulations and–I can’t lie, in the midst of the hate that we’ve received, you know what? We found invincible love. That is what we have found here. We’ve gotten more than we could have possibly given, and for that, I will always be thankful and grateful and carry it with us forever. So you can’t break that. You cannot break that. It becomes imprinted on you.”