The Scrappers were running wild. The day was Hades hot, and a platoon of well-worn dads had delivered a few minivans' worth of Little Leaguers to Cindy’s Soft Serve, next to Hillside Motel on Route 1 in Elkridge. I don’t know if they were celebrating a playoff victory or just happy to have snowballs, but the team was swarming the picnic tables behind the small stand like a bunch of delirious World Series winners. A few of the more stalwart fathers corralled them into a brief stasis for a team picture, the boys exploding outward again the moment the camera had clicked.
This is not an unusual scene at Cindy’s; the place is de rigueur for nearly any Elkridgean. On Sundays, the line stretches across the portico of shimmering asphalt all the way to the busy four-lane road that fronts the property. A summer Sunday can see up to 600 people arriving overheated, and leaving satiated.
Elkridge has a shade more than 40,000 residents; I have to believe most, or at least the ones that consider this town their home, their community, have stood under that red awning and ordered from an almost intimidatingly lengthy menu. For a place that serves only two things, soft serve and snowballs, that menu is long.
For me, the place has a particular draw because it is, unmistakably, a family-owned small business. My father has worked for two people in his lifetime: his father and himself. Growing up in a small business household, you learn quickly that your life is a little different from the kids whose dads work a traditional nine-to-fiver. Like it or not, family dynamics revolve around what is, at its core, a moneymaking venture almost always perched precariously on the brink of collapse.
Cindy Quick, the Cindy of Cindy’s Soft Serve, grew up understanding that. In fact, so did her father, Claude Sacker, also the son of a small business owner and the man currently behind the ice cream.
Claude, 62, is a lifelong Elkridge resident. He grew up hunting squirrels just behind where his ice cream stand is today. The first business he was part of was his father’s filling station, Atlantic Gas, at the corner of Route 1 and Montgomery on what is now the site of a Shell station. From there, his family opened a hamburger stand about a half-mile down the road.
In 1976, it seemed natural for Claude to partner with his father to buy the Hillside Motel, which he still owns and now operates with his son Ralph. That’s the business Cindy grew up with. Her high school Friday nights were spent working a reception desk instead of sitting in a movie theater. While Claude never got around to pursuing a diploma beyond high school, it’s clear he both wants and expects a bit more for his children and grandchildren.
So Cindy left home for college at Towson and then some time away from Elkridge. Leaving proved harder than she thought, so she returned, business plan in hand. With Claude’s financial backing, Cindy opened the ice cream stand.
Eventually, Cindy sold the stand to her father so she could concentrate on raising three boys while helping her husband, Tom, get Cindy’s Spirits off the ground. Today, Claude feigns ambivalence as to whether or not his family will continue the legacy he built.
Claude is gruff and says he’s retiring at 70 on the dot. He refuses to pressure his children and grandchildren into keeping the businesses he built alive and open after he leaves. “It’s their choice,” he growls. “Can’t pressure them into anything.” He betrays himself, though, with a brief pause, followed by, “But it would be great if they do.” It’s doubtful, though, the physical representations of his work—the motel, the ice cream stand—are what’s important. Rather, it’s that the lessons he learned, and tried so hard to pass down, are remembered: hard work. Community. The effort required to make a living.
Although Claude and Tom both refrained from making mention of any charitable contribution, Cindy prodded them into revealing a bit of their generosity. One story that came out: One of the Elkridge schools called, asking for donations for its band. Claude obliged with 90 $1.50 gift certificates, one for each musician. Then the string band called. Could he do the same for them? Figuring a string band could only have a few dozen kids, if that, Claude said sure, no problem. Great, they replied, we have 227 members. All 227 got $2 to spend at Cindy’s, without a blink. Then the Elkridge library asked for, and received, 2,000 $1 gift certificates to hand out as rewards for summer reading. Without any hesitation, Claude committed more than $2,500 to his community.
And the family tradition continues. This summer, Will Quick—Cindy's eldest son—is starting his first job. At age 14, the Howard High student is working behind the counter at the soft serve stand. Down the line, he says he wants to stay in Elkridge and open his own business—a convenience store—for the community, not because of his family. This seems to be drawing a distinction that doesn’t exist, separating a two so tightly intertwined as to be inseparable.
The 10 years his grandfather spent as chief of the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department (1980–1990), the kids who call his dad “Mr. Cindy,” the parents whose first real paycheck was signed by his mother makes them so. If he stays in Elkridge, which I hope he does, and fulfills his dream of opening his own family-run small business, which I’m sure he will, it will be for his family and his community, which are pretty much the same thing, anyway.