Food And Drinks

Detroit Ice Cream Companies Turn to Delivery During the Pandemic


Delivery becomes an essential part Right now, restaurants are looking for safer and more convenient ways to get their food out to the public while dining rooms are closed and customers are largely protected. This has led to some interesting developments in Detroit’s ice world this spring. As the warmer weather hit southeast Michigan, several ice cream companies in the area decided to bring their frozen treats straight to customers.

These are not your typical ice cream trucks rolling the streets playing music and attracting kids like magnets to buy $ 2 popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. Rather, they are bespoke ice cream services with hands-free online ordering and door-to-door delivery. The product is relatively expensive and limited.

Kyle Hunt is a co-owner of Huddle, a walk-in window pudding stand in downtown Detroit. He and his wife Lea had planned to introduce a new ice cream van this spring to be introduced for private events such as weddings and birthday parties. By March, Huddle had provisionally booked several events for their truck in the 2020 season. But when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Michigan and Detroit’s many offices were emptied, downtown suddenly became a “ghost town,” recalls Hunt. Pudding stand sales have dried up and gathering restrictions have put many of their events on hold. While food companies – even ice cream – have been seen as indispensable under state executive regulations, “there’s just no one down there to make it worth it,” he says. The Hunts had to rethink their business plan quickly.

Kyle Hunt prepared the truck for service, had it painted and set up an online ordering platform. For the past two months, Huddle has opened up to delivery orders around the Detroit Metro every week, bringing pints of pudding, sugar cones and sprinkles to the doorstep of customers looking for a treat during their stay. Deliveries are made on a schedule based on address clusters in different areas, and customers receive a text when their order is placed. Hunt estimates the store averages 600 pints a week for delivery to addresses in Detroit, Grosse Pointe, Ferndale, and Royal Oak. Huddle is regularly sold out.

Huddle has also adapted to offer socially distant birthday parties. In these cases, orders are placed for a large number of pints and the truck is parked near groups of families who line up to safely get their beer from the window of the vehicle. “It’s fun because the kids are excited,” he says.

The Hunts aren’t alone when it comes to delivering ice cream. Ice Cream Plant, a vegan and allergy-friendly ice cream company based in Eastern Market, switched to some online orders and deliveries directly to consumers during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Ice Cream Plant was mainly distributed through sales to local restaurants and grocery stores. While grocery store sales have risen slightly over the past two months, many restaurants where Zimmerman and his wife Sarah previously sold ice cream have temporarily closed due to the novel coronavirus. By moving to delivery, they were able to get their four part-time workers paid during the crisis.

Ice Cream Plant is now accepting online orders with a minimum order value of $ 40 for delivery – that’s the equivalent of four pints. The company has also partnered with Nosh Pit, a vegan restaurant in Hamtramck, to make gluten-free, vegan cookies for ice cream sandwiches. Zimmerman was impressed with the sales volume from delivery. The company carries out around 10 orders starting at $ 40 per week in addition to its regular wholesale freezer filler shipments. “It was off the chain,” he says.

While the response to on-demand ice cream has been positive, neither Ice Cream Plant nor Huddle see door-to-door delivery as a long-term adjustment. Rather, it is an inelegant, temporary association for a problem that affects every aspect of the food industry. As a small business, it is time consuming to prepare orders and arrange delivery in a logical way.

“I don’t know if I slept in about two months,” says Hunt. His wife Lea usually stays at home and takes care of her 8 month old baby. That leaves production, planning and delivery almost entirely to him. “We work probably four times as much as we normally do,” he says.

Hunt’s days start at 6 a.m., usually with a visit to a dry ice supplier to keep their product cold. He then returns to his 60 square meter shop downtown to load ice cream into Huddle’s 1970s ice cream van “Tan Jan” and make deliveries. He returns to the store around 7 p.m. to make pints for the next day’s stops – a process that can take four hours. Then the whole process is repeated.

Finding a reasonable route is complicated. At first, Hunt used MapQuest to schedule its stops, but found that it couldn’t add more than 25 addresses. Since then, he has invested in another app that can load up to 150 stops. “The truck is getting a lot of miles now,” he says with a chuckle.

Ice Cream Plant partnered with Nosh Pit on gluten-free, vegan ice cream sandwiches during the pandemic. They are currently only available for delivery. Ice cream plant [Courtesy photo]

For Ice Cream Plant, Zimmerman mainly delivers in his 2010 Volkswagen. While he’s trying to plan routes for deliveries to local grocery stores, it doesn’t always work. “We had to rule our delivery area a little because it was getting out of hand,” he says. “Let’s say we got an order from Downriver, I’m just crossing my fingers and hope I get two more orders from Downriver just because it’s a hike to get there.” It is also complicated by the fact that ice melts quickly in transit.

Ice Cream Plant had prepared for growth of around 50 percent by 2020, but is now expecting subdued sales due to the pandemic. Zimmerman is proud, however, that the company was able to turn. “It was a good test like,” How do we react to adversity? “He says. The company also learned some valuable information about the market. In the future, Ice Cream Plant plans to invest more in vegan soft ice cream and is looking into how the ice cream sandwiches can be packaged for sale in grocery stores.”

For now, Huddle is putting the delivery in the background and Tan Jan is hibernating for all but socially distant events. A few weeks ago, Huddle reopened its walk-in window to test how customers might behave when the store comes back for the rest of the spring and summer seasons. “It worked really well,” says Hunt. “People were all waiting in line at the right distance from each other and it’s nice because then I can just give them a cone and I think that gave people a bit of normalcy for a second.”

Huddle is now open Wednesday through Sunday 3pm to 9pm in downtown Detroit. Ice Cream Plant can be delivered online and sold in local grocery stores in southeast Michigan.

Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Do you have a story to share? Contact us at [email protected]

• How coronavirus is affecting the food and beverage industry in Detroit [ED]
• What (and how) to eat in Detroit during the coronavirus pandemic [ED]

2 John R. St., Detroit, MI


Dusty Kennedy