GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lots of ice cream shops throughout West Michigan are getting ready for a busy summer.
WOOD TV8 is stopping at some of your favorites this season for the West Michigan Scoops Tour. For the first installment of the tour, our crews stopped at Furniture City in Grand Rapids, Rocky’s in Rockford and Sherman’s in South Haven.
GRAND RAPIDS: STOVETOP HANDMADE ICE CREAM AT FURNITURE CITY
An ice cream shop on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids makes all of its own ice cream.
At Furniture City, located at 958 Cherry St. near Lake Drive, the flavors change throughout the week. It offers vegan options and pup cups for your four-legged friend.
The most popular item it offers is its peanut butter Oreo flavor, owner and operator Rachel Franko said. The second most popular — and most unique offering — is the crème brulee ice cream.
“We don’t make nearly as often simply because the mix itself is a three-day process and the creme topping takes me half a day just to make it for one batch,” Franko said. “We make that intermittently, but once that’s out, that’s sold out pretty quickly.”
Each ice cream is made in house, along with most of the items that go into the ice cream, like cookies and apple crisp. The process takes at least two days, sometimes more depending on the flavor.
It starts with a mix of sugar, milk, cream and eggs on the stovetop, Franko said. It’s a process that makes each flavor “better and more special,” but is also fairly labor intensive, she said.
But with a background in chemical engineering, Franko enjoys it.
“For someone that has an engineering degree in mixed management and mixed processes, it makes sense that I enjoy that part. But it’s very labor intensive,” she said.
“Everybody needs a job,” she later said. “And if this is my job, I’m more happy for it. I don’t want to be in an office, I don’t want to be answering to somebody. Every day is different. … It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.”
Franko started Furniture City almost nine years ago. She had been doing some consulting work, but found she was enjoying it less.
“(I) saw a magazine on ice cream shops popping up in California,” she explained. “I came home and started developing recipes right then and there.”
Her husband came up with the name, a nod to when Grand Rapids was known as Furniture City in the 1920s and 1930s.
“We really wanted to be a nod to more of the ’20s and ’30s where the ice cream shops were where people went and enjoyed their night out,” she said. “It wasn’t all focused on the nightlife and it’s just a simpler time.”
Throughout the years on Cherry Street, Furniture City has partnered with local animal nonprofits, like Pleasant Hearts Food Pantry. Furniture City raised funds for the organization throughout the month of May, by offering a new flavor, puppy chow, and giving all of the profits from that flavor to the pet pantry.
Franko and her husband both love dogs.
“As we think about growing and being bigger, that’s always in the back of my mind,” Franko said. “How can we use this little shop — and then hopefully something bigger in the future — to be able to give to more shelter pets.”
Furniture City is looking to grow its operations and move production of ice cream out of the shop.
“The goal is to move our manufacturing, if you will, our small-scale manufacturing, to a location that can eventually supply more than one shop and continue to supply our catering,” Franko said.
ROCKFORD: TRADITION HELPS ROCKY’S STAND OUT
In a small town with five ice cream shops, tradition helps one business stand out from the rest.
Opened in 1981, Rocky’s Dairy Depot has been dishing up cold treats for years. It has seen four different owners and is currently owned by the former manager who purchased the business in 2017.
“… When I first started working at Rocky’s, they had bought it from the owners previous to them and they had owned it for 30 years,” Katie Hradsky, owner of Rocky’s Dairy Depot, explained.
“(The Rockford community) shows up. We have regulars and the girls know who they are. They come up to the window and don’t even have to say their order because we already know what they’re going to get,” Hradsky said.
Rockford is a tight-knit community and Hradsky says owning a business that has long been a staple there comes with a lot of pressure
“When I first came to Rockford (in 2010) … it was a lot of pressure to make sure that we were still upholding the same name and having the same values and making sure that we are creating something that is a tradition for people,” she said.
Rocky’s offers a wide range of ice cream options. From soft serve and hand-dipped to malts and flurries, there is something for everyone.
“Basically anything you can dream up or wish for we have and we will make,” Hradsky said.
Rocky’s carries Homemade Brand ice cream, based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and MOO-ville out of Ionia.
“We call ourselves ice cream snobs over here. My staff and I have favorites that we all love and like to bring in and we like to test out for customers, and so some of those you’ll see come and go as the season goes on,” Hradsky said.
Despite being lactose intolerant, Hradsky’s favorite flavor is the Homemade mocha almond fudge but she is “a sucker for a dole whip” and offers two at Rocky’s.
For anyone looking for a “secret menu item,” Rocky’s offers a tunnel of fudge with the soft serve.
Rocky’s opens for the season after spring break and closes in the fall, usually after the Rockford Harvest Festival.
SOUTH HAVEN: PREMIUM ICE CREAM AT SHERMAN’S DAIRY BAR
Dozens upon dozens of customers stop by Sherman’s Dairy Bar every single day. The shop doesn’t open until noon but it isn’t uncommon for people to line up well before that.
“I can say probably on one hand throughout the season, I can tell you where there’s not a line before we open,” Marty O’Connor said.
O’Connor, one of the leaders of Sherman’s, has been a fan of the ice cream shop since he was a kid.
“When we would come from Chicago, mom would say, ‘Kids, if you’re good, we’re stopping at Sherman’s.’ Now, we all knew we were stopping no matter what was going on,” he said.
He isn’t the only one with a long history of eating the ice cream who is now part of passing on that tradition. Molly O’Brien is one of the scoopers customers will see behind the counter this summer. She started coming to the dairy bar as a child, just as her mom did before her.
“She would always go home with Sherman’s ice cream cone and tell stories of how she would fall asleep and the dog would be eating the ice cream,” she said. “And so I would come here since I’ve been a little kid and I would always get Blue Moon because I think that’s a little kid’s classic flavor.”
Blue Moon is just one of the many flavors of ice cream that Sherman’s pumps out every day. There are well over 30 flavors that can be customized in a multitude of ways from toppings, cones, or pairing it with another flavor.
One of the most unique items at Sherman’s is the Pig’s Dinner. Eight giant scoops of ice cream are placed on a bed of cut-up bananas, topped with four of your favorite toppings, whipped cream and cherries. That comes served in a wooden stand that can only hope to hold it all.
The ice cream itself is what sets it far above other spots in West Michigan, according to O’Brien. Sherman’s sells premium ice cream, meaning it is made with 14% butter fat, compared to 10% to 12% at other establishments.
It has created a cult following of sorts — not just here in West Michigan, but also from surrounding states. One family that spoke to News 8 drove from Wisconsin to try Sherman’s along their journey along the lakeshore.
“This was definitely one of the things we wanted to try on our trip. And we’re glad we did,” the father said.
This year will be the 65th year that Sherman’s has served customers from its spot on Phoenix Street. The Shermans first moved onto the 880-acre land in 1890 and were credited with being the first family to homogenize and deliver milk to residents’ doorsteps. The dairy bar opened July 1, 1958, and it hasn’t stopped since.
“We’re just thankful to be a part of the tradition,” O’Connor said. “So many things change and to be able to celebrate our 65th year, I mean, there’s a lot of businesses that have come and gone and it’s been a tough couple of years, but our guests are so loyal and so much fun to have. They’re the people that make Sherman’s, Sherman’s. And they’re the ones that keep coming back and we’re thankful for them. They make us who we are.”
Visit woodtv.com next week as we continue the West Michigan Scoops Tour.