Who doesn’t love ice cream? I love ice cream so much that I never forgot the best ice cream soda I ever had. It was some time in the late ’90s. My husband and I were traveling home to New Jersey from Montauk and I suggested we take the ferry across to the North Fork for a little change in scenery.
It was a long trip. It was August. It was hot. I was sweaty and cranky. We crawled down Route 25 with the rest of the Sunday night traffic. A tasting room here, a farm-stand there. But wait! In the distance, shimmering through the summer heat on Main Street in Mattituck, an oasis appeared: the freestanding ’50s-style marquee for Magic Fountain. Magic, indeed! It quenched our thirst and elevated our spirits. For years after, I declared it the best ice cream soda I had ever had.
So imagine my delight when I moved to Hampton Bays and discovered that Magic Fountain was not only still in business, it was thriving, presenting new flavors of ice cream every week. Salted Caramel! Coconut Avocado! Chocolate Chile! Roasted Garlic with a touch of basil! Roasted garlic?
I set out to discover the Man Behind the Flavors. Choudry Ali bought Magic Fountain in March of 2007 when they had about 60 customers a day. Now, during prime ice cream season, an average of 800 people consume about 50 buckets of ice cream daily. Do you know the most popular flavor? Ali sells 5,000 gallons of it over a three-month period. Read on for the answer!
Ali’s personal story is as compelling as his ice cream production. Arriving in the United States at the age of 16 from Pakistan, he briefly lived with an uncle while he found a job as a convenience store manager. He married his wife, Journey, a Mattituck native, and eventually became night custodian at the Three Village School District while managing a 7-Eleven during the day and dreaming of owning his own business.
“When I heard about Magic Fountain being up for sale, my wife and I took a ride out here and decided to go for it…I’ve seen a lot of people do business for money; I wanted to do it for passion, where I could put my hands into it.”
Magic Fountain opened in 1966 as a Dairy Queen and was under the stewardship of one family for 35 years. It gained its current moniker in 1975, and in 1991 it changed hands again on the verge of bankruptcy. Ali has turned the tide with his inventive approach to making ice cream that features 160 flavors: 35 every day, with five custom seasonal flavors each week.
“You see something and then you go for it,” he says. “I was making chocolate ice cream…I dropped a cherry in bourbon and liked it. So I added it to the ice cream. Delicious!” So was born Black Cherry Bourbon.
”Olive Oil ice cream is a big hit. We’re doing a Cucumber. To offset too much sweetness, we use rosemary and sea salt. We have one with goat cheese, cranberry and walnuts.”
Magic Fountain has become a favorite destination. I now call ahead to make sure my favorite flavor (S’mores) is in stock before we make the 20-minute trek to Mattituck, and much to my delight, there is a new Hampton Bays outpost tucked into the front of Tony’s Fusion (only 16 flavors—but the very best ones!).
With the help of his managers, Marsha Williams (Tiramisu and Red Velvet), a Johnson and Wales graduate with strong culinary skills, and Jen Hunter (S’mores), a wickedly good cake decorator, Magic Fountain has become a North Fork icon.
“We sponsor a baseball team,” says Ali (Pistachio). “They come in to have ice cream on us after their final game and we sponsor the library’s reading program. We like to support all the locals, because they support us.”
“Part of the reason I love working here is that you get to see so many people in the community,” says Williams. “It’s like family”…“And Choudry is the best person to work for.” And lest you forgot: best-selling ice cream flavor? Pumpkin!