Punk Rock Meets Ice Cream at DC’s New Mount Desert Island Shop

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream co-owners Melissa Quinley and Brian Lowit. Photograph courtesy of Brian Lowit.

What’s better than ice cream and punk rock? Brian Lowit and Melissa Quinley, two longtime employees at the local punk label Dischord Records, loved Maine-based Mount Desert Island Ice Cream so much, they brought it home. The duo trained with founder Linda Parker extensively, working in her Bar Harbor store to learn her recipes (they even modeled their DC kitchen after hers). The new Mount Pleasant shop, the first outside Maine, opened earlier this summer. And yes, they’re hoping Barack Obama will make a surprise appearance here, too.

We chatted with Lowit and Quinley about ice cream-eating competitions, vegan-friendly flavors, and the store’s DIY vibe.

How did you get interested in Mount Desert Island Ice Cream?

Lowit: My family has a house on Mount Desert Island that we’ve had for eleven years now. Ice cream was always the highlight of the trip, and there would always be competitions of who could eat the most ice cream in a day, like could I eat it four or five times. At some point, Linda had posted on Facebook that she was looking for someone on the island with interesting things growing in their yard because she was looking for some herbs. So I sent her a message [to] look at my family’s property. She came out with her production manager and we got to talking. I kept [saying she] should open a store in DC.

Why did you choose something food-related?

Lowit: We have a bunch of friends from more punk backgrounds that have succeeded in the restaurant business over the years. I also have a record label on top of Dischord and a lot of bands I put out are chefs. I think it’s cause there’s some creativity involved in food.

Quinley: Everything clicked at some point because I love Linda’s ice cream—plus, ice cream is so exciting to me. You can cut down on the waste ’cause it keeps for a while. It’s very creative, there’s so many fun flavors, but it also kind of has a focus to it. To me, an ice cream shop was very defined, both creative and defined in a way that was really appealing to me.

Quinley: It’s sorta wholesome.

Lowit: People want to just get something simple, walk down the street with their family, it’s such a great thing. It’s a community-building thing. The amount of people that we see sitting on our benches out front of all different backgrounds, it’s kind of amazing. That’s what we want, to have a sense of community and place.

Why Mount Pleasant?

Lowit: We were fortunate: Our friends actually own the building that we’re in. When we were looking for spaces, they actually had an opening. I’ve known [the owner] since high school, so that made it easier, and more familiar on the punk/DIY scale.

Quinley: We both love this neighborhood and it’s very community-oriented, which is what we were ultimately looking for.

Lowit: It’s a real neighborhood. And a lot of our friends live there. Ian [Mackaye], the owner of Dischord, lives a block away—

Quinley: Right around the corner (laughs). Everything came together in a way that felt right. Just the build out alone was stressful but there were so many things that made it feel comfortable and good, so I didn’t have any genuine doubts about going forward.

Okay, let’s talk ice cream. Do you carry the same flavors as the Bar Harbor location?

Quinley: I think it’s mostly similar. From very early on, Brian and I really had a focus on wanting to make sure we always had vegan flavors available because so many friends in our community are vegan. Brian and I are both vegetarian. It’s just something that’s important to us. We have different ingredients available to us so sometimes we’ll tweak things, but for now, I’m kind of checking with Linda with everything I try because I’m not at the point where I completely trust myself. I’m still learning.

Are there any punk design influences within the store?

Lowit: I definitely hear people come in and say it has the utilitarian/modern feel to it, cause a lot of our stuff, even our menus, was made by friends. The counter rails were all built with friends, the benches outside were built with friends, there’s definitely a DIY vibe to it.

Quinley: I think it’s a reflection of our personalities. Just when you walk through the door, we wanted to make something that was comfortable. We didn’t want it to be overly cutesy, but most of all, we just wanted people to feel comfortable and happy when they walked in the door without pretension.

Lowit: Yeah, we didn’t want to be an Urban Outfitters with distressed glass in the window, or like, ‘Here’s some show flyers!’ We were trying to stay away from stuff … although we had been part of the scene our whole lives, a lot of that stuff gives off a fake vibe.

Quinley: I also wanted people of all different personalities feel comfortable. We wanted it to not feel like you could only be a certain way to enter.

So we could possibly run into local punk stars?

Lowit: The Kills were in town last weekend and they stopped in. All the people we’re friends with from larger DC bands have come through, but you know they’re friends so they’re just being supportive anyway. They like the ice cream and they like hanging with us. Ian’s first job was actually at Häagen-Dazs, so that’s kind of funny. Along the way, he’s given us a lot of advice.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.