A burst of flavor during National Ice Cream Month
Posted on 07/06/2021
These great-grandchildren of the founder of Guernsey Farms Dairy enjoy ice cream on a rock outside the scoop shop.July is national ice cream month and four Northville businesses deserve some recognition for their versions of this frozen, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth summertime treat. Whether they make their own ice cream or serve it in a special way, their reward is to see that smile on your face when your eyes alight on the ice cream masterpiece and you take your first bite of delicious-ness.

Browndog Barlor in downtown Northville, and Guernsey Farms Dairy, on Novi Road, make their own ice cream. Rebecca’s Family Restaurant, in downtown Northville, and Custard Time, near Hines Park, serve an assortment of ice cream and in the latter case, also custard.

Let’s take a closer look at these businesses and how they operate.

Guernsey Farms Dairy is the grand-daddy of ice cream in the Northville area, in business more than 80 years. It was founded by John McGuire and is now run by the third generation, including Joe Kinville, whose mother, Karen, was the youngest of the 14 McGuire children and still works there, running the office.

What is ice cream actually? According to U.S. Dairy.com, it’s a combination of six major components: water, fat, protein, sugar, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. Typically, milk and cream provide the water, fat, and proteins. To meet the U.S. Food & Drug Administration standard definition of ice cream, a product must contain at least 10% butterfat by weight.

At Guernsey, their product is 14% butterfat, which makes it extra creamy. They use a traditional base mix developed by the founder in the 1940s with real cane sugar - processed in a special way.

“We make small batches … 100 gallons at a time,” said Kinville. “In total, we make 5,000 gallons of ice cream 52 weeks a year.”

Rather than hand-mixing, they rely on a continuous ice cream freezer that uses liquid ammonia, which is a safe method and the best refrigerant to freeze the ice cream. The ice cream is firm with a light texture due to air being incorporated during the production process and other factors. The result is the right consistency for scooping and enables people to savor the creamy, cold goodness and having it slowly melt in their mouth.

Guernsey offers 70 flavors of ice cream. “People request things,” Kinville said. “Someone wanted a peach version. We made peach-pie flavored ice cream. We like to stay traditional and stick to flavors with less inclusions (chocolate chips and Reese’s cups are considered inclusions). It can mask the flavor profile of the ice cream itself. We like to have the ice cream flavor shine through.”

Some of the more unusual flavors created were cotton candy, peanut butter and jelly, and popcorn. Do any of those strike your fancy? They also make their own hot fudge.

Guernsey ice cream is available in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. They have a scoop shop at the Northville location next to their restaurant, 21300 Novi Road. You can also purchase the popular brand at Rebecca’s and Custard Time. Cartons of ice cream are available at many local grocery stores.

The pandemic hasn’t changed the production of ice cream too much. “This is what we do all day, every day,” Kinville said. “Our sales have increased during this time because milk and ice cream flew off the shelves. If they were going to be quarantined at home, they might as well be eating ice cream and drinking chocolate milk.”

Browndog Creamery also makes its own brand of ice cream – 24 yummy flavors with the top seller being “kookie for cookies,” blue cookie dough with Oreos, chunks of cookie dough and house-made chocolate. The company uses all Michigan dairy products and baked goods are made on the premises, along with their own caramel sauce. Their spin is liquor-infused ice cream drinks – enabling parents to have an adult beverage while their kids eat ice cream. The best-selling “boozy ice cream” is bourbon pecan and is only available at the restaurant.

The unique blend of restaurant, ice cream shop, and bar – a barlor – was founded by Paul Gabriel and Brian Scherle in 2015 as a bakery and ice cream store. They later expanded next door at 120 E. Main with the restaurant and bar. Since then, they opened another barlor in Farmington (which closed during the pandemic but will reopen by Fall).

“We just learned as we went,” said Gabriel, of his entrepreneurial journey. “We signed the lease in Northville, did the build-out, and the ice cream machine arrived three weeks before we opened. We had never made ice cream before. It was a lot of dumb luck.”

They have two batch freezers and make ice cream in small batches, mixing and packing it by hand. In 2020, they switched the ice cream production to a 12,000 ft2 facility in Oak Park, which also houses their corporate offices and serves as the distribution hub. They also rent out the kitchen to other food businesses.

Even during the pandemic, Browndog Creamery has been growing its product line – getting it into 35 outlets, primarily grocery stores but also at “scoop stores” in Milford, Royal Oak, Beverly Hills, Plymouth, West Bloomfield, and Shelby Twp.

The biggest learning curve from growing the business beyond the restaurant into the production and distribution of branded ice cream was “how to sell ice cream when it’s sitting on a shelf,” Gabriel noted. “It’s easy to sell ice cream when you’re in front of someone handing them a sample and being able to explain why our product is different. But when it’s in a grocery store, it’s very difficult to get a customer to pick it up and purchase it.”

Despite the hurdles, they plan to keep expanding, first focusing on Michigan. “We’re trying to get our ice cream everywhere,” Gabriel said.

Another man passionate about ice cream is Paulo Brito. The Brazil-native works at Rebecca’s Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, which Rebecca Good has owned for 23 years. The iconic restaurant sells hand-scooped Guernsey Farms and Ashley brand ice cream from large display cases near the side door, which caters to walk-in customers. The hot fudge cream puff is the most popular, followed closely by brownie sundaes and regular sundaes.

The best thing about the business, Brito says, is “When we’re making ice cream treats and we hand it over to the children – the look in their eyes and their smile.”

For sundaes, they use Sanders hot fudge, homemade banana bread, and other delectable ingredients. Brito recalled, “One man ordered a vanilla milk shake and asked us to add some coconut cream pie to it. (Later, the staff re-created the concoction.) That was amazing.”

There are several baby boomer customers who come from miles away to get a chocolate soda, which is made with French vanilla ice cream, soda water, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. “It’s something that reminds them of their youth,” Brito said.

Their best-selling ice cream is Superman (adults like it too), followed by mint chocolate chip, and chocolate chip cookie dough.

If you’re in the mood for a milkshake, float, sundae, soda or hand-scooped ice cream, visit Rebecca’s at 134 N. Center Street. You can eat the ice cream in the shop, on patio tables or in the greater Social District. Don’t forget to ask for a cherry on top of your sundae.

What’s the next best thing to ice cream? Many would say it’s custard. Jim Roth, owner of Custard Time since it was built in 1976 at 567 7 Mile, believes custard is even better because it’s a richer form of ice cream. Their specially formulated brand comes in vanilla and chocolate. They also sell eight flavors of hand-dipped Guernsey Farms ice cream.

For those who can’t eat dairy products, Dole soft-serve is a good option. It comes in four flavors: pineapple, mango, strawberry and raspberry and one flavor is offered each week. Many people like to mix the Dole product with vanilla custard to create a swirled combination.

“Everybody loves ice cream,” said Roth, who notes that ice cream peps up people in good times and bad times. “It makes them feel happy.”

Many high school kids work at Custard Time and often stay there for five or six years before heading on to college or their next job opportunity. Roth is proud of his role in training and mentoring the students in how to manage and run a small business.

No matter how you like your frozen treat, you don’t have to leave Northville to get the best ice cream around.

Custard Time building

Co-owner Paul Gabriel stands by his original ice cream freezer

Guernsey trucks deliver to several states

Photos of Guernsey Farms provided by the company, other photos by Liz Cezat. Roll over the photo for a description.