Brown Dog, Cape Charles ice creamery, is sold to town restaurateur

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BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

Cape Charles’ popular Brown Dog Ice Cream has been sold, but its new owner is a local who is doggedly determined to follow the business model that has made the shop a success for more than a decade.

“It’s really about the community for us and making sure that something that’s terrific here stays terrific here,” said the buyer, Jon Dempster, who also owns and operates two restaurants in town: The Shanty and Deadrise. 

Miriam Wagner opened the Mason Avenue ice cream shop in 2012, naming it in honor of her beloved chocolate Labrador retriever, Foster, who often could be found out on the sidewalk, greeting customers.

After Brown Dog celebrated its 10th anniversary, Wagner decided it was time to sell the business and stay in New Jersey, where she had moved to be near family. She relocated about 18 months ago and has been running the business remotely.

In January, she reached out to Dempster to discuss an offer. The two had opened their respective businesses around the same time and became good friends.

It was an “easy decision” for Dempster, and by the end of February, the sale had closed. 

He intends to be a “good steward” of the business, and when the shop opens in April, it will still be called Brown Dog and serve the same homemade ice cream – perhaps with some new flavors thrown in – that has had customers lining up since 2012.

That will be made possible by Brown Dog’s general manager, Heather McCaskill, who knows the job inside and out, including making the ice cream, conducting daily operations, and hiring.

She’s a “terrific” employee who has been “running the show for years,” Dempster said.

With Brown Dog in McCaskill’s capable hands, Dempster can concentrate on running his two restaurants.

He anticipates another busy summer, which will be even busier than usual for Dempster, who now has three businesses to keep staffed.

“Most of the time it’s about just making sure you take care of your employees … and trying to give people an opportunity to grow and learn within the company,” he said.

That includes young employees like McCaskill, who started at Brown Dog as an ice cream scooper seven years ago, when she was still in high school.

Wagner said the ice cream shop hired and mentored about 100 teenagers over the course of 10 years, and she expects Brown Dog “will continue to be a major employer of the youth on the Shore.”

She also is confident that Brown Dog will continue supporting community programs, such as the local SPCA, public library, teachers association, and Northampton High School athletics – “really anybody that asks,” she said.

“I trust Jon. I couldn’t be happier with who’s going forward with the legacy of Brown Dog,” Wagner said. 

“I hope he can take it to places that I had hoped to take it. … He knows that I’m here for him and I will be supportive for however long he might want me to be.”

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