Martha's Dandee Crème...A Landmark Worth The Trip!
A landmark for more than 50 years on Route 9 between Lake George and Glens Falls, Martha’s is back in the hands of the second owners, the Lafontaine family. The site is a former chicken farm owned by the Harkness family. Its fame as a restaurant and later an ice cream stand started in the late 1930s.
Martha Schoelermann was from Long Island. As a young woman, she worked in the insurance business in Manhattan. She came to the Lake George region on vacation, fell in love with the area and the rest is local history. She went back home and convinced her family to help her purchase a property in Queensbury. Her friend, Carl Freiberger, followed her and she later married him.
Martha and Carl Freiberger opened a restaurant in the house that sits next to Martha’s ice cream stand today. She cooked in the house kitchen and seating for the patrons was on the large wrap-around porch. The Freiberger family, which included four children, lived upstairs in the house as well. Gale Freiberger, the youngest, is a summer hot dog vendor in City Park in downtown Glens Falls.
Behind the house were chicken coops that were part of the former Harkness chicken farm. Once the restaurant was established, the coops were razed and the Freibergers built 12 cabins for tourists, some of which still stand today behind the ice cream stand.
The restaurant in the house prospered and around 1956 Martha and Carl built a new restaurant next door. The ice cream stand was an afterthought, but it was built early on. Martha ran the restaurant and Carl the ice cream stand, and this was the beginning of Martha’s Dandee Creme. Martha’s family had been in the ice cream business for many years on Long Island, and she brought that knowledge to the new business.
Why The Rooster?
One famous resident of the property was a rooster named Charlie. Probably a leftover from the chicken farm, Charlie would delight patrons of the restaurant by walking up and down the ledge outside of the windows. It was Charlie who inspired the huge rooster on the property’s sign.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Lafontaine family from Connecticut vacationed at the Wakita Lodge, directly across from Martha’s. Dennis Lafontaine remembers going over to Martha’s for meals. While Martha and Carl Freiberger had built a successful business, health issues forced them into the decision to sell it.
In 1982, coming from a catering business, Roger and Lena Lafontaine bought Martha’s property and well-established business, and with their three children, Robert, Michelle, and Dennis, they operated the restaurant and ice cream stand for the next 17 years, serving the ice cream that Martha and Carl made famous. They lived in the house that was the original Martha’s restaurant and continued to operate the cabin colony, the restaurant, ice cream stand, and a motel they built later.
Under the Lafontaine ownership, the restaurant always offered breakfast and for a time, lunch and dinner. At the end of their ownership it was just open for breakfast. There is a worn patch of linoleum in front of the grill that Dennis Lafontaine, the current owner, claims he made, being the short order cook for many years, never missing a day’s work, even after he broke his leg one afternoon.
In the early 1990s, the Lafontaine boys built the large motel behind the restaurant. It replaced many of the cabins as the ice cream trade continued to thrive. The restaurant was open for breakfast and “The Grill” provided a food choices for customers when it opened in 1996. The choices were hamburgers, hot dogs, and other sandwiches plus fries, other sides and drinks. There was outside patio seating, and for dessert — ice cream next door.
Sometime in the late 1990s, the Great Escape’s parent company, Six Flags, began buying up properties on the west side of Route 9. In 1999 the Lafontaines decided to sell everything to the Great Escape and with a five-year “no compete” clause, the Lafontaines were out of the ice cream business, temporarily.
Family Flavor Returns to the Iconic Ice Cream Stand
Beth and Dennis LaFontaine purchased Martha’s from Six Flags in 2009, putting the ice cream stand back into the hands of the family that owned it for almost two decades and for Lafontaine generations to come!