Arethusa Farm Dairy opened its doors on 1020 Chapel St. Thursday morning to the sweet aroma of waffle cones.
After two months of interior renovation, managers at Arethusa decided to host a soft launch of the store Thursday to assess if any work is necessary before Arethusa’s grand opening in the upcoming weeks, co-owner Tony Yurgaitis said. Yurgaitis, who bought a Litchfield, Connecticut dairy farm also named Arethusa in 2002, was approached by University Properties roughly one year ago to replace oil and pasta vendor Extra Virgin Oil, which formerly held the Chapel Street location. In addition to the Chapel Street shop, Yurgaitis also owns a farm-to-table restaurant and retail store in Bantam, Connecticut. To ensure the Litchfield farm has a stable business model, all three of Yurgaitis’ dairy stores source their raw ingredients from this farm.
“[Arethusa co-owner George Malkemus] and I are putting this investment into the farm,” Yurgaitis said. “But we want to get the business on its feet so that it will be sustainable for future generations. The farm itself is not supporting itself. The retail and the restaurant supports itself.”
Elm City customers entering the store Thursday could choose from 10 ice cream flavors, including maple walnut, coffee, sweet cream and toasted almonds.
The store also offers pantry staples, such as a pint of whole, chocolate or coffee milk for roughly $2.50 and a half-gallon for roughly $4.00. The store’s cheese case stocked gourmet offerings such as Camembert, Bella Bantam and Tapping Reeve ranging in price from $10 to $18 a pound. Students looking to stock up on groceries can also purchase a tub of maple yogurt, sour cream or butter in the $4 to $6 range.
The store ships its products, which are manufactured without preservatives, every day from production facilities in Litchfield, store manager Krista Torello told the customers entering Thursday. Yurgaitis noted that Arethusa’s cows and cheese have won national and international recognition. Their breed, Holstein, was named supreme champion of the 2004 World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin. Arethusa’s cows continue to qualify for the World Dairy Expo and win accolades for breed and milk quality, Torello said.
Yurgaitis — who made his fortune as vice-president of the shoe company Manolo Blahnik and recently launched a shoe line with Sarah Jessica Parker — said he had been thinking about expanding the market for Arethusa’s products even before UP approached him. UP’s request seemed like an opportunity to grow Arethusa’s reach from the small, seasonally tourist towns of Litchfield and neighboring Bantam to downtown New Haven, he said.
Yurgaitis said he is aware that the former tenant of the Chapel Street property closed after less than a year of business, but said olive oil and ice cream are two vastly different businesses. Yurgaitis also emphasized the quality of Arethusa’s products, noting that it contributes to his business’ viability.
“They’re so different,” Yurgaitis said. “Ice cream shops become a part of the community. People sit outside and have ice cream and bring their kids. Our products are also incredible.”
Several customers interviewed on Thursday expressed satisfaction with the taste of Arethusa’s products, as well as the reasonable serving size, given the price.
Awa Franklin ’19 visited the store, just a few minutes away from her Old Campus dorm, with a friend. She said she found the price of $3.25 for the smallest size of ice cream comparable to an average ice cream parlor.
The store saw a steady stream of customers walking in and out on Thursday, Torello said. She added that the store will open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days before switching in the next several weeks to longer summer hours.
“Pretty much all day long we’ve had people coming in continually, asking questions and trying samples,” Torello said. “The community response has been tremendous and the word is spreading.”