The New Hampshire Lake Where Smitten Ice Cream’s Founder Goes to Chill
You don’t go from serving ice cream out of a Radio Flyer wagon on the streets of San Francisco to running a California dessert empire without incredibly hard work.
Boston-born, Stanford MBA graduate Robyn Sue Fisher’s Smitten Ice Cream has won legions of fans with its signature, hi-tech liquid nitrogen machine, used to freeze ice cream in 90 seconds. A startup dessert spot for a startup-obsessed city, Smitten now has eight locations spanning the Bay Area and LA (with two more on the way), and serves tens of thousands of scoops per location each month.
So after long months of demanding yet rewarding work, where does its founder and CEO go to relax and unwind? While both Hawaii and Lake Tahoe are a relatively quick flight away, since 2010 Fisher has made an annual summer trip to Squam Lake in central New Hampshire, accompanied first by her husband, and now their two young children (ages 4 years and 5 months).
Though not as well-known as nearby Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake and its neighboring town, Holderness (located about a two-hour drive from Boston, or 75 minutes from Manchester), offer a quiet break from the pressures of city life, full of breathtaking views and old-timey East Coast hospitality. (It also provided the setting for the 1981 Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn film, On Golden Pond.)
“It’s a hidden gem,” Fisher says. “It just feels stumbled-upon and lovely and quiet. There’s a lot of time out from life and adventure to be had.”
A typical summer day can involve swimming or canoeing on the lake (also a perfect way to stargaze at night), hiking the area’s many trails, picnicking on the beach, and finishing the evening with dinner in town. Things move slower here, but that’s exactly what Fisher is looking for in a vacation spot.
For a nightcap, Walter’s Basin offers residents and vacation-goers a fun place to let loose with beautiful vantage points of the lake. (Every Thursday in the summer, its Basshole lounge hosts live music). “It’s a fun little hole in the wall,” she says. “You can actually pull your boat up and climb out.”
Both Walter’s Basin and the nearby Inn Kitchen + Bar offer several delicious lobster-based entrees. While Squam Lake is a bit inland, they get their catch fresh each day -- Holderness isn’t too far from Maine, after all. “You can’t go wrong with ordering lobster there,” Fisher says.
Opened in 2005, the cozy Inn Kitchen + Bar specializes in locally-grown produce and locally-caught seafood, and offers a slightly more upscale option among the area’s laid-back dining options. Though make sure to plan ahead and make a reservation -- the restaurant, which is attached to a bed & breakfast, is only open for three hours a day, five days a week.
Also in downtown Holderness, the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center offers hiking trails to see wildlife, including mountain lions and river otters, up close. But Fisher prefers to head four miles north to the trailhead for West Rattlesnake Mountain, her favorite hike in the area. A two-mile, moderately steep trail leads to the top of the mountain, and provides a perfect panorama of the area and the lake’s many islands. “There are eagle sightings and it’s just beautiful,” she says. “There are lots of trees and then when you get above the trees -- well, we’ve got a lot of family photos from there.”
And of course, they make time for ice cream. Fisher and her family routinely head to the quaint Squam Lakeside Farm, a “friendly and inviting” shop which is the only place in town to find a solid scoop -- even if it’s not made using the fancy machine she’s used to.
“It’s one of those East Coast walkup places that are only open over the summer,” she says. “There’s literally no inside; you just walk up to the counter. There are some tables out front and you either pull up the boat or canoe or whatever it is -- it’s pretty old school.”
Indeed, the New Hampshire lakes region is a seasonal destination; in winter Squam Lake and the town essentially close up shop, save for those who pass through for its annual Winterfest and proximity to ski resorts like Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley Resort. But it’s that peace and quiet that bring Fisher and her family back from San Francisco each summer. Whether relaxing means hiking, swimming, or simply curling up with a good book, Squam Lake and Holderness offer a calm and serene place to get away from it all.
“There’s so much to do when I’m in my ‘go’ mode, that what I really like about Squam is not doing, but just being,” Fisher says. “Time out from life is my go-to statement when it comes to Squam.”