By Roger Smith, with files from Claire Hutcheon
The newest place to get ice cream in the Glebe might have a special appeal to men and boys looking for a haircut – Lois ‘N’ Frima’s Ice Cream has opened another location tucked into the front of Heads Up Barber Shop on Bank Street.
The cut-and-a-cone combo was dreamed up by retired barber Frank Olszynko, co-owner with his wife of both businesses, and it debuted 12 years ago at their shop in Stittsville. The arguably odd concept not only gives him two revenue streams from one rental property, it has also proven to be a popular draw.
“It was a big hit,” he says. “When you get an unruly child who doesn’t want a haircut, you bribe them with an ice cream and everyone’s happy.”
Frank and his wife Frima, married for 53 years, have been making and selling ice cream for more than 40 years. They have seven locations, including the Arena at TD Place, the Ottawa Titans baseball stadium, the Byward Market and now 837 Bank near Fifth, only the second place to be partnered with a barber shop.
When you walk in, the takeout ice-cream counter is on the right, in what used to be the front of the barbershop. The two businesses are separated by a glass door and a glass wall to comply with health regulations, presumably to make sure those are chocolate sprinkles on the cone and not stray hair clippings. Ice cream eaters can watch the barber, and vice versa.
“I’ve always had a fondness for the Glebe, I love the Glebe atmosphere,” said Olszynko.
“It’s not easy in today’s atmosphere to open up new shops, but we have a formula and a longevity in business and we’re confident that we can succeed.”
Barbering was the first family tradition. His father, a Holocaust survivor, started cutting hair in Poland in the 1930s and continued his trade when the family moved to Montreal after the Second World War. Frank and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps – the family eventually owned three barbershops and a salon.
But cutting hair has been an on-again, off-again career for Frank. In 1972, as the long-hair craze cut into the demand for barbers, he moved to Ottawa with Frima to take a job at a watch repair shop. Since then, he has dabbled on the side in jewellery, computers, video rentals and, of course, ice cream.
“I am an entrepreneur,” he says. “I can’t sit still with just one business.”
So, the obvious question about Lois ‘N’ Frima’s – Frima is his wife, but who is Lois? Frank makes a long story short. Lois, he explains, was a close friend of Frima’s who moved with her husband to Vermont. When Frank and Frima visited, talk turn to looking for a business for the women. The two couples tried to buy the Canadian rights to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When that failed, Lois and Frima went to Rutgers University in New Jersey to study ice-cream making.
Returning to Ottawa, they opened the first Lois ‘N’ Frima’s on Elgin Street in 1982. Ten years later, Lois and her husband moved to Texas. Frank and Frima bought out her share but kept her name. Frima dreamed up the flavours, and her recipes haven’t changed since. Frank says she won the award in 1987 for Best Ice Cream in Canada. The original location closed in the early 2000s.
“We started in the early 1980s and fast-forward to today, those kids from the ’80s are now bringing in their children and enjoying the ice cream,” said Olszynko.
At 72, Olszynko is looking to lighten his load. Hopes are the barbers now running the Bank Street and Stittsville locations will eventually take over as franchisees.
“It’s a new concept,” Olszynko admits, “to mix barbering and ice cream.” A concept he hopes will sell in the Glebe and keep both sides of the business thriving for years to come.
Roger Smith is a retired journalist and copy editor of the Glebe Report. Claire Hutcheon is a journalism student at Carleton University.
Photo: Liz McKeen