Tiffany’s Ice Cream & Little Finger Sandwiches Café | Food
Iconic restaurants in the Empire are doing well
By Ross Boissoneau | June 19, 2021
Tina and Mark Dunphey know better than to play with a good thing.
“It’s been Tiffany’s for over 40 years,” says Tina.
True. But while the ice cream shop in Empire has long been a tradition for beachgoers and locals alike, the Dunpheys have only owned it since September 2020. So if it ain’t broke, well, Mark and Tina aren’t looking to fix anything.
They will continue to serve ice cream and sandwiches to those who stop in town to visit the beach or the Friendly, the Grocer’s Daughter or any other Empire staple. (Or really, anyone else who wants to stop and grab a cone.)
The location has been an ice cream shop of one sort or another since the 1940s. In the 1970s, under the name Witt’s End, owners Bill and Helen Witt used the western half of the cozy boutique. as a souvenir and trinket shop. In 1985 Dick and Betty Owens turned this part of the building into a cafe, which it has been ever since. When Peiter and Peggy Schous bought it in 2014, they expanded the concept to include sandwiches, adding Little Finger Café to the mix on the spot.
Mark Dunphey has long had the itch to buy both places. “Seven years ago, when it was for sale, I wanted to do it. We had just had a baby, and Tina said, ‘Are you crazy?’ She was right, now was not the right time.
It was then, and when it went on sale last year, Mark brought up the idea again. This time around, Tina was more receptive and the couple made it their own.
Tiffany’s offers 16 flavors of Hudsonville and Ashby’s ice cream, as well as sweet service. It’s also a full cafe, with cappuccino, espresso, chai latte, and has a small menu of artisanal sandwiches courtesy of the Little Finger Café, also known as the western half of the building. “This side is what I like and feel comfortable with,” Tina says, pointing to the ice cream and coffee part of the building. “He’s on the food side.”
AUTUMN HAS ARRIVED SO QUICKLY
While the couple had originally envisioned Tiffany’s as a place to go for the summer, they decided to stay open for a while last fall after purchasing it, and were pleasantly surprised at the bargains they got. do.
“September and then October have been amazing,” Tina said. The continued influence of the pandemic provided a wider client base as people worked from home and children also attended distance school. The chance to step outside and grab a fresh creamy treat was appealing to those who yearn for the end of being relatively homebound.
Mark’s full-time job is as a teacher at St. Mary’s in Lake Leelanau, while Tina is Minister of Youth at St. Philip Neri in Empire. This gives the couple a summer break to run the ice cream shop. It also helped them find a team, a challenge at a time when almost every store has a “Help Wanted” sign in the window.
“Because I am a teacher and she is the minister of youth, the children know us,” said Mark. A recent example: After one of his students heard from his sister how much she enjoyed working there, the student approached Mark to see if he would hire him too.
Perhaps the best part for the couple is that, even with the addition of a new business to their working life, the Dunpheys were able to keep their family close. Not only did 18-year-old Sage and his six- and eight-year-old brothers do their part of the work at the store (the boys are apparently invaluable chip stockers), the Dunpheys have moved into the apartment behind that of Tiffany. Going from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home to a much smaller two-bedroom and store-attached bathroom was an adjustment, but Tina called it a release, noting that it allowed them to tidy up. their business.
The life-work situation is not without pitfalls. On the one hand, there’s the siren call of late night ice cream. On the other hand, it is more difficult to get away from work. Mark recalled making homemade waffle cones late one night when a sheriff’s car drove past on patrol. The officer glanced, no doubt curious as to why someone was in the store at 1 am; Mark, burning the midnight oil, gave the officer a thumbs up and returned to his waffle cones.
As well as offering guests a plethora of options for food and drink, Tiffany’s has a unique appeal that underscores the classic vibe of the quaint town.
“It’s nostalgic,” Tina says, noting that the store has changed little inside or out over the past few decades. Everyone comments on the swivel stools at the bar, she said, while the old-fashioned tables and ice cream chairs also help set the mood.
“These are the original tables and chairs,” says Mark. One set had been stored at Leland; another was saved from another friend. Also nostalgic: the store does not accept credit cards, Apple Pay, etc. It’s all cash – and luckily for out-of-town customers who aren’t already in the know, there’s an ATM across the street.
The menu includes summer favorites like cherry chicken salad wraps, a turkey, avocado and cheddar panini sandwich, and kids’ choices like grilled cheese and PB&J. Mark rules the kitchen, at least until their chef begins. A new addition is Chicken Shawarma, which Mark says is the most popular item on the menu.
“We’re beach food,” says Tina. “It’s a family place. People spend their vacations here. And if those folks are lucky enough to stay until fall – or better yet, live there year round – the Dunphey family will be there too.
Hours for ice cream are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. The Little Finger sandwich shop maintains the same opening hours as Tiffany’s but closes at 6 a.m.