EAST PEORIA — Carrie Foster bought Twistee Treat sweatshirts for the staff she used to be a part of before she bought the business in January.
"We always had Twistee Treat T-shirts, but never sweatshirts," former owner Mike Davis said this week. "First time ever."
"And now look — the worst spring ever," Foster added.
Foster and Davis sat at the first table inside the front door at Twistee Treat, 1207 E. Washington St. in East Peoria. Spring was two weeks old. The temperature outside was 37 degrees. Weather forecasts called for snow. Ordering a soft-serve vanilla cone made about as much sense as a bowl of chili in a Texas heat wave.
"See what she brought with her?" Davis said. "Coldest spring in memory."
It was a joke. Foster's sweatshirts had almost nothing to do with this year's sluggish start to the season that is supposed to be the reward for central Illinois residents for enduring another aggressively crappy winter. Besides the hoodies, what Foster actually brought with her to her new job as owner of the Twistee Treat was 25 years of experience and loyalty as a seasonal employee at the short-order restaurant and ice cream shop at Washington Street and Leadley Avenue. It is the business that is partially housed inside a giant fiberglass ice cream cone.
"This has always been the plan," Foster said. "We figured that out about 10 years ago."
M&M's Twistee Treat opened in 1983 when Mike Davis, recently laid off from Caterpillar Inc., and his wife, Mary, ventured into small-business ownership with the purchase of a vacant Dairy Queen.
"We were just ice cream at first," Davis said. "We ended up doing hot dogs."
The state bought that section of his property 10 years later when it widened Washington Street. Mike and Mary discovered the new Twistee Treat building while on vacation in Florida in 1992.
"We saw the ice cream building in Cape Coral, Florida. Twistee Treat had gone bankrupt and were selling the buildings," Mike Davis said.
They bought it for $25,000 and had it trucked to East Peoria. The 30-foot ice cream cone came in 19 pieces.
"It was like paint-by-numbers putting it together," Davis said.
Foster started working at Twistee Treat the first summer inside the ice cream cone. She was 15, and it was her first summer job.
"It was a lot of fun," Foster said. "Everybody was always in a good mood."
Foster kept returning to her summer job through high school and college. Her job as a junior high school special education schoolteacher allowed her to keep her summer job. Then Mike and Mary planned for their retirement. Carrie Foster was the only person considered to take over the business.
Now it's hers.
"It has been a smooth transition," she said. "No surprises. I'm pretty familiar with the operation."
The ice cream cone with the fiberglass cherry on top houses the walk-up window and the kitchen. The seating is located in two rooms connected to the cone. The menu has expanded through the years to include a long list of sandwiches and snack foods including fried okra and catfish curls.
"If you can fry it or microwave it, (Carrie) will sell it," Davis said.
The offerings in the jukebox dead end in about 1973. There are far more songs by Elvis Presley (a couple of dozen) than Bruno Mars (zero). Complaints about the selection are not allowed. The music is free.
"I'm huge into music," Foster said. "It's important to me."
It also explains the decor, framed photos of 1960s and 1970s music and television celebrities.
"It starts over there with stuff from the '60s and '70s," Foster said, pointing to the wall with the likenesses of people such as Laverne, Shirley, Mork, Mindy, Skipper, Gilligan and Shirley Partridge. "And then works its way around to more celebrities from today."
Davis was happy to sell his business to someone with a long history at and a love for the place.
"I'll help her out any way I can," he said.
Foster welcomed the help.
"I had all new keys made up," she said. "But I gave a new one to (Mike)," she said.
Twistee Treat opened for the season on March 16.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.