For most of us, mud season has become a distant memory and deliciously warm afternoons have taken hold, the ones that seem to stretch out like an expanse of scenic and winding Vermont road. Those magnificent vistas and mountain views savored during a road trip have a magic that can only be enhanced by the delicacies a roadside snack shack can provide. What could be better on an August day than a sticky ice cream cone or a paper boat teeming with perfectly salted French fries? Maybe some house-smoked barbecue, a breakfast burrito or even a green smoothie? Welcome to Whippi Dip.
Regardless of the direction from which one travels to the town of Fairlee, just off Route 91, the journey is idyllic. Whippi Dip, once known as “The Dairy Bell,” has been an institution since 1962. Now owned by Crystal Johnson and Mark Fifield, the business has continued to evolve and grow (business has increased four times from what it was when Johnson and Fifield bought the spot 18 years ago). Johnson and her former partner, David Berger, bought Whippi Dip in 1999, but as time went on and needs changed, Johnson and Fifield bought him out, and Whippi Dip remains in experienced hands.
After the duo finalized the buyout, they deemed an upgrade of the space in order. Thus, in 2001 Johnson and Fifield tore down the original structure and rebuilt it. “It was originally two buildings,” Johnson explained, “the main building and one for storage. This was an old cabin from one of the resorts that used to be on Lake Morey named Bonnie Oaks. There was the classic “drive-in look” and we just wanted something that was one building, a bit tidier and up to code. Mark tore down the buildings, keeping the large window in the front, and built it back as the current structure in record time: one month.”
Whippi Dip’s popularity is owed to numerous factors, not the least of which is the expertise of longtime hospitality professional Crystal Johnson, who hails from Vershire, Vermont. Johnson began her foray into the industry in high school by washing dishes at local restaurants. This, in turn, led to work in the corporate restaurant world. Regardless of where life has taken her, the restaurant business has remained a constant.
Johnson’s partner, Mark Fifield, oversees all of the maintenance for Whippi Dip and also provides delectable barbecue for Whippi Dip’s catering engagements. Fifield is an accomplished pitmaster who has been barbecuing for over 20 years and competes under the name “Bare Bones BBQ.” Luckily for Whippi Dip patrons, Johnson has accompanied Fifield to numerous competitions and has developed her own set of barbecue chops, which translates to a menu rife with tender brisket and smoked pork.
Offering delicious food with an ethos to match, Whippi Dip began using local products and supporting neighboring farms long before the farm-to-table trend gathered speed. The burgers have been made with local beef for 15 years while Colatina Bakery supplies the rolls. Cabot, Vermont Creamery, North Country Smokehouse, Vermont Smoke and Cure, and Hatchland milk and dairy are just a handful of the local businesses that support Whippi Dip’s menu.
Local vegetables are a given during the summer months, but even in early spring, Long Wind Farm provides tomatoes, with Black River and Upper Valley produce contributing a plethora of additional sandwich and salad accoutrements. In addition, although Vermont is landlocked, fresh seafood makes its way in courtesy of Black River Produce, which picks up in Boston several times a week. Whole clams, scallops, haddock and oysters are delivered to Whippi Dip four times per week.
In the mood for snacking? Whippi Dip has that covered, too, but you won't find frozen mozzarella sticks here, scratch-made is part of the appeal. From salad dressings to ice cream toppings, you can feel confident that the hot fudge on your banana split wasn’t poured from a jar.
“Every year, one thing that was not homemade goes away, and we make it in-house,” Johnson said. “Last summer it was jalapeño poppers, and once they are available, Crossroad Farm will be supplying me with potatoes (red, white and blue!) for French fries.”
Regardless of what one chooses to enjoy at Whippi Dip, the passion behind the food is undeniable. Johnson concluded, “I have been in the restaurant business now for over 30 years. I own my house, travel extensively and have little debt. I loved college, but I do not believe that it is always the path or needed to make a life. I do believe in hard work, integrity and just loving your job.”
Whippi Dip is open mid-spring through October. The hours are 7–9 daily, and until 10pm Friday and Saturday. Check out Facebook for regular updates and enticing photos.
Corey Burdick enjoys summer road trips that involve detours to explore swimming holes and waterfalls. This August’s itinerary will also include a stop at Whippi Dip for an ice cream sundae topped with lemon curd, the ideal finale to a sun-soaked afternoon.