Story By Livi Welch
Photos Contributed By Cool Scoops
A bit off of Highway 280 in Smiths Station, Alabama, a small candy store waits with its doors open to anyone who might wander in.
The store, which calls 9063 Mullin Road home, is run by Michael and Tasha Rathel. The couple’s son and his girlfriend are the only other employees, but they’ve managed to take the area by storm in only a year.
“It used to be a loaded tea shop,” Michael said. “We bought it from a couple that had to shut it down. Immediately, we revamped everything. [We] turned it into an ice cream store [and we] have candy by the pound. It’s been great.”
As Michael said, Cool Scoops has a lot of sweet treats to choose from. Visitors can grab a scoop of ice cream, grab a big bag of candy or even get a custom loaded tea. In October, they had the “Monster Mash” loaded tea that ombre-d from pink to purple to blue to green.
Cool Scoops even serves iced coffee — popular among older members of the community.
“If you want it, we most likely have it. There is something for everyone,” Michael said.
Though the Rathels opened the store just last year, it has already made an impact on the Lee County community. Not only do they provide sugary-sweet treats, Michael and his family have made it a priority to leave their doors open — free of charge.
“Every Monday night, [my wife] and I have a Bible and prayer study for anyone who wants to come,” Michael said. “Anyone, men or women. We stop selling at 7 p.m. for it.”
The official time the Bible study closes is 8:30 p.m., but, as Michael cheekily said, it rarely ends that early.
“We’re supposed to close at 8:30, but we always have folks hanging around until 9, 10,” he said.
Michael and his family pride themselves at being a welcoming place for locals and travelers to grab a cool drink or snack. Profit or no profit, they want people to feel at ease when they step foot in their door.
“We cut the open sign off and just have a fellowship,” Michael said. “Make yourself at home. Don’t feel like you [should] feel all tense.
“I’ve had people come into the store and say, ‘Man, this place just feels so inviting. Y’all treat everyone like family.’ And we do. We really do.”
But Cool Scoops isn’t just a shop, or a Bible study — it is a safe space to gather in dark times. In October, it became a part of the memorial for Logan Marshall Dunman, a student at Smiths Station High School.
Dunman passed away Oct. 1, 2023, when he was just sixteen years old. According to the memorial note, Dunman played in the high school’s marching band and was a member of both the school’s JROTC and the Boy Scouts. Additionally, he loved to play video games, listen to music, draw and was an “avid animal lover,” choosing to raise rabbits in his free time.
On Oct. 6, a memorial service was held at noon, but Cool Scoops opened their doors at 7:30 p.m. that night to create a haven for the mourning community.
“It felt good to be able to provide a safe place,” Michael said. “I wanted to show people it [was] alright to cry. Come to us no matter what — if you’re being bullied or you have an issue at home. Come to us and our establishment.”
The couple originally planned to keep business as usual, meaning customers would pay for their refreshments. After praying and talking with one another, Michael and Tasha decided to make refreshments free.
“When we were talking about selling, we thought about the kinds … of people coming,” Michael said. “We just kept thinking, ‘It might not be about the money. Let’s just keep it open. Whether or not we make $50 or $500. There’s no telling what we could be doing for someone.’
The night was a success — in terms of people, not profit. We had about 100 people come. It was a great turnout.”
And Cool Scoops isn’t going to stop anytime soon. As the South ramps up for winter, Cool Scoops isn’t planning on going anywhere.
“Last year, we had Santa every weekend,” Michael said. “Every Saturday and Sunday, it was free for families to come take pictures. We’re going to do something like that again this year, even if it may be only once a week. He’ll be here from 4 to 8:30 p.m. if we keep the same time.
“We’ll probably also have a vendor event; have a lot of food and shops out [in] front [of the store.] We’ve had a good amount of people come in the past, and we’re hoping for a bigger group this year.”
For more information about Cool Scoops visit its Facebook page.