Above all things, John and Charlene Staton love each other and they love ice cream.
For the last 18 years, the North Carolina couple has brought their homemade ice cream to the Cumming Country Fair & Festival, pleasing the senses, igniting nostalgia and entertaining passersby of all ages with their turn-of-the-century engine that pops, smokes and produces fresh ice-cream in about 30 minutes.
Now a Fair staple, the Staton’s and their ice cream daily are in their tent just steps away from Fairground gate A on the Carnival Midway. The secret to their success, John says, is Charlene and the engine — she makes the recipes, and the engine churns it to perfection.
"She's got all the recipes, she won’t even give me the recipe," John said. "But we've had it 18 years and we've never changed a thing."
John said that this type of engine, a 5-horsepower “Hercules,” is what would have been used on a farm in the early 1900's, one of dozens that he has repaired, maintained and collected over the last 40 years.
When the Statons got married 30 years ago, John said that his wife regularly made ice cream at home for neighbors and friends. When the couple came to the Cumming Steam, Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Expo about 20 years ago and saw the ice cream churner attached to an engine, they knew that they could merge their hobbies together and use them to turn a profit.
"They thought we did such a good job at the engine show, so they asked to come back the next year for the Fair," John said.
From there, they were asked to participate in the North Georgia State Fair in Marietta. The rest is history.
"I owe all these people thanks, because all of these people helped us start in this business," John said. "We didn't really know the way around when we started ... It kind of just snowballed after that."
Today, like two halves of a whole, John and Charlene work together to make the ice cream the best it can be. John keeps the engine up to snuff and does the heavy lifting, while Charlene makes the recipes and all the extras, root beer floats, giant brownies and apple or peach pastries.
The mainstay flavors of vanilla, chocolate, peach and strawberry are a consistent hit with everyone, but normally they try to throw in an interesting daily flavor like peanut butter chocolate or coconut.
"They tell me what they want, so I try to do what they want," Charlene Staton said, pointing out at the Fair crowd.
But no matter where they are, they say the peach ice cream is king.
"If I'm in Pennsylvania, it’s peach. If I'm in Key West, Fla., it’s peach. If I'm in Tennessee, it's peach," John said.
And that makes sense considering the product itself. While more subtle in flavor than something you might find in the grocery store, the Staton's peach ice cream is perfectly soft, sweet, with a good helping of peach chunks throughout.
John said that every year they come back to Cumming, they delight in hearing from locals how happy they are the Statons are back.
He said that aside from ice cream praise, they love hearing people’s ice cream stories from when they or a loved one was younger.
"Everybody has an ice cream story,” John said. “Everyone's got a story about some time when they were a child and they made homemade ice cream. I want to hear that story if they've got it."
"It takes them back to their childhood," Charlene said.