LANSING — New Gayety's Chocolate & Ice Cream owner Laurene Lemanski quietly reopened the ice cream parlor and gourmet chocolate shop in downtown Lansing without any fanfare or Facebook posts.
But within an hour of flipping the sign from closed to open, people started doing U-turns on Ridge Road and stopping to snap pictures. Customers started trickling in, and soon there was a line out the door. Word spread so quickly she got a call at 1 a.m. that night from a former Lansing resident in Hawaii who wanted to get Gayety's chocolate shipped out to him.
He was surprised she answered, thinking he'd just leave a voicemail.
"It's been crazy busy," she said. "We've been swamped."
The 99-year-old institution reopened in April under new management at 3306 Ridge Road in downtown Lansing after closing last fall. Lemanski, who's also the owner of the Briar Executive Realty real estate brokerage, has a 30-year history with Gayety's, which her parents frequented when it was still in South Chicago, and which she started working for when she was in high school during the late 1980s. She said it taught her everything she needed to succeed academically and in the business world.
"We're keeping the name, we're keeping the recipes," Lemanski said. "We're keeping things the same as they've been over the last 99 years. It means so much to me that I was able to keep this tradition alive. It has always had a special place in my heart."
She's made some changes to modernize the business, such as putting a viewing window on the wall so that customers can watch employees hand-dip chocolate in the kitchen and adding regular raffles, such as for a five-pound chocolate horse for the Kentucky Derby. Lemanski also is more active on Facebook than the previous owners, using it as a platform to talk to her customers.
"We'll post videos on what's going on, like dipping strawberries in chocolate," she said. "We want to be more interactive than just boring Facebook posts about it being popcorn month or whatever. We want live video of what's going on and make people feel they need to go to the store."
Lemanski also is looking at making operations more efficient to cut down on lines and wait times.
"This isn't McDonald's. It's not pre-made," she said. "But we'd like to move people in and out quicker. We want to maintain the quality but we don't want people waiting in line like it's Great America."
She and her staff also are batting around ideas for how to rearrange the ice cream parlor's interior to free up more space for seating, given how crowded it's been.
"When we have birthday parties, we're swamped," she said. "There's no seats anywhere."
Gayety's hired back many of the same employees, including some who worked there 20 years to 25 years ago. Lemanski trying to recreate the friendly atmosphere where people went to socialize just like in the old days.
"We have really cool customers who have been sharing great stories about this place," she said. "It feels like a big reunion. It's been a lot of people from the old neighborhood. It's a very social atmosphere. People are very excited the ice cream and chocolate are back. It's been a big reunion and I look forward to coming into work every single day."
Lemanski has been looking to distribute Gayety's chocolate at places like gift shops and hospitals and as corporate gifts, such as the kind companies give their employees during the holiday season.
"We're out knocking on doors," she said. "In the past, we've had accounts like United Airlines who gave the chocolate to their workers. It's a high-quality product."
A longtime anchor of downtown Lansing, Gayety's — which was named by USA Today as one of the best ice cream parlors in the country — also hopes to gear up to capitalize off downtown car shows and the summer concert series at Fox Pointe.
She's planning a big 100th-anniversary celebration next year, but said the details are still being worked out.
"At this point, we're focusing on quality control," she said.