I guess Thomas Wolfe was wrong -- it looks like you can go home again, laughs Stratton Leopold.
In a storyline worthy of Hollywood itself, the Savannah native who produced such films as Sum of All Fears and Paycheck has indeed returned home.
His mission: To reopen his fathers ice cream shop -- founded in 1919 -- and in doing so, to recreate a gentler, simpler time.
The dream is one Leopold has had for years, and one that kept coming up in Savannah gossip time and time again.
So what finally made the dream a reality? It just happened. It was time, Leopold says.
While the shop -- called simply Leopolds -- is not at the same location as his fathers, Leopold says not only is the feel much the same, but hell be doing basically the same things he did decades ago while working for his father at Gwinnett and Habersham.
I remember learning everything from the bottom up. Thats probably the biggest lesson I took out of all that. And just watching the amount of hard work my father put into this -- that taught me a lot, too, Leopold says.
I remember washing the metal churns -- not plastic ones! -- making sure everything was sterile. Then wed put ice in them to make the ice cream. When I started helping I was so little I could barely reach the bottom of the churns.
Leopold says hed like to reinstitute a tradition of hosting picnics for local orphans, as his father used to do.
Every summer the Bethesda boys would have a day at Tybee, he says. Back then it was very difficult transporting the ice cream -- we had to use dry ice and canvas. Id go out to Tybee and scoop ice cream for the orphans. Those are life lessons you don't forget.
For his hard work, Leopolds father paid him fifty cents an hour. But my uncle felt sorry for me and would sneak me an extra fifty cents an hour, Leopold laughs.
This isnt the first time hes come home to mind the shop.
I came back and ran the Gwinnett Street store for five years when I was about 26 or 27. But Savannah was too small for me, so I moved to New York, he says. The old line about Savannah does seem to be true: People cant wait to leave when they're young, but they always end up coming back later in life.
Leopold says the time is not only right for the shop, but for him to take a break from Hollywood.
Im not going to spend the rest of my life in the film business, he says. The film business is slow right now. Its really changed dramatically. Budgets are so high now that fewer pictures are being made. And for the ones we make, the expectations and pressure are so huge because you're spending so much money. The studio has to have a hit.
For now, Leopold is content to create reality on a smaller scale.
I want two main things for the store, he says. One, I want to make it a destination, not just a place you happen on. And two, I want to make it happy. You know, people are predisposed to be happy in an ice cream store. I want this to be a fun experience for everybody -- whether youre 90 years old or nine.
Bio: A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series...A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series.more