PORT TOWNSEND — Julie McCulloch is enjoying a little more ice cream than usual as, she said recently, the end of an era nears.
Julie and her husband, David, married for 45 years and owners of Elevated Ice Cream for 42 of those, have begun the process of retirement, selling their business to a couple they call their ideal buyers.
Shirlena Freund and her husband, Josh, who spent some of his boyhood in Port Townsend, are the people taking custody of the Swiss orange chocolate chip, the espresso chip, the mint chip, the cardamom and all of those house-made ice creams.
Learned of opportunity
Back in spring 2018, they’d heard Elevated was for sale. The couple was living in Snohomish County with their eight — yes, eight — children, where Josh has had a long career at Microsoft.
Suddenly, last summer, Shirlena was in Port Townsend with her daughters. As it has for untold thousands of visitors, that day included ice cream at Elevated, the shop inside an 1860s-vintage building at 631 Water St.
“We’d thought it would have sold by then,” she recalled.
Shirlena and Josh had considered buying another small business, a Snohomish bed-and-breakfast. But that didn’t turn out to be right for them.
At the same time, the Freunds were fearful about Josh leaving his corporate job. It would be a huge step.
Yet, “let’s just call and see,” Shirlena said.
They contacted Windermere Real Estate, the listing company where the Elevated package — ice cream parlor, candy shop, vacation rental upstairs and the building itself — was priced at $1.8 million. They got more information. They wrote letters to the McCullochs about why they wanted this, of all things.
“We are small-town,” Shirlena said.
She and Josh met in high school in Friday Harbor; both have dreamed of operating a family-owned, family-friendly business in a place like Port Townsend. They have immediate family nearby in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
And it doesn’t get much more romantic than this: When the couple — now married nearly 25 years — were teenagers, they came to Elevated on a date.
It was a match. Following a labyrinthine process, the Freunds got a Small Business Administration loan; an offer was made in August. As they finalize the transfer of ownership this month, they declined to give the purchase price but said a lower amount than the $1.8 million asking price was negotiated.
After a couple of decades at Microsoft, Josh was acutely ready to do something different, while he and Shirlena have no illusions.
“We choose to do hard things,” he said, including adopting two of their children from foster care. Their four sons and four daughters are ages 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 16 and 19.
Over the next several weeks, Shirlena and Josh, who are in their mid-40s, will learn all they can from Julie, 66, and David, 67.
The new owners emphasize they will not alter the shop’s staff, products or recipes for Italian ices, traditional American ice cream and confections.
They will have help from a close consultant: their 19-year-old son Simeon, a business student at Northwest University in Kirkland. He’ll be offering suggestions for marketing, for instance. His younger brother Malachi, 16, is ready to start dishing up the flavors at Elevated.
Operating this company is not all strawberry sundaes. Elevated is open seven days, or as Julie puts it, 84 hours per week. Winter payroll is 16 employees. Summer brings that to 25.
The McCullochs don’t have kids of their own, but David said they’ve had hundreds on their hard-scooping staff.
“Our business grew with Port Townsend,” he added.
In 1977, he and Julie began selling cones from an elevator cage in the alley behind what is now Pippa’s Real Tea.
People stood in line — in all weather — until they moved into the current building, a former blacksmith and wagon shop.
Back then the Washington State Ferry docked right outside, and customers would rush in and out en route to the boat. When the ferry moved down to its current landing site, things changed for the better. More people lingered to enjoy their treats. Elevated grew even more popular as people of all ages came in droves, morning, noon and night.
It’s about the ice cream, yes, but it’s also about having a place to come after a party, or just before leaving town, or to sweeten a difficult talk with a loved one.
“This is a gathering place where everyone is welcome,” Julie said.
The McCullochs continued to make their own ice cream — on demand — six days a week in summertime.
“We have a well-oiled staff,” said David, adding that Julie, with her sharp sense of good character, hired them.
Over the past year, hundreds of people have asked the McCullochs about Elevated’s fate. They happily report finding the Freunds. As for Julie and David, Port Townsend is home and where they will stay.
Shirlena and Josh, David added, have “the people skills to take this forward.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.