It’s the after-class treat, the late-night studying reward, the heart-to-heart conversation snack: ice cream from A.J.’s Café. In fact, it is such a popular purchase that A.J.’s sells an average of 21 3‑gallon tubs of ice cream throughout one week.
“I had my salesman tell me a few years ago that I sell as much ice cream here in the winter months as an ice cream store will sell in the summertime,” Lisa Beasley, supervisor of A.J.’s Café, said.
Apparently, the ice cream is just that good.
Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream, the ice cream sold at A.J.’s, maintains a local approach to ice cream production as well as creativity in forming its unique flavors.
Founded in 1984 by the Davis brothers, one of whom graduated with a degree in economics and business management from Hillsdale College in 1980, Ashby’s started as a response to the, “need for premium, upscale ice cream” Dianne Tunison, sales and marketing manager for Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream, said.
At its founding, Ashby’s found pride in eight flavors and a bulk approach, selling their ice cream in 3‑gallon buckets. Seeking to provide to consumers a high-quality ice cream, they settled on 14 percent butterfat, as opposed to typical supermarket-grade ice creams, which use around 10 percent butterfat.
Beasley said she thinks this component is part of what makes Ashby’s ice cream good.
“It’s so good just because there’s just so much butterfat and milkfat,” she said. “That’s why it has such good flavor and texture.”
In addition to the high-quality product, Ashby’s prides itself in the unique and complex flavors that they combine themselves.
“From there, we wanted to put the good stuff in,” Tunison said.
Each fall, Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream hosts a Flavor Day where customers, prospects, and distributors have the opportunity to sample upward of 30 different flavors and choose their favorites. The top four or five picks are then released the next spring.
“Voting on the flavors is important because then you know it will be successful,” Tunison said. “You can sit with the top dogs in your company, and then only three people like it.”
Their voting approach has been widely successful, with several flavors winning various awards, specifically Vanilla Bean, which is not only their best-seller, but has also received a perfect score from the National Ice Cream Retailer Association.
This spring, they will feature the new flavor, Moscow Mule, a ginger beer and lime sorbet based off the alcoholic drink.
“The idea came from my head, since it’s what I enjoy while sitting at the pool,” Tunison said.
Another one of Tunison’s ideas, Michigan Pothole, has enjoyed great success. Customers can enjoy the “black-tar” fudge ice cream with “chunks of asphalt” fudge cups knowing that a portion of the proceeds from Michigan Pothole help fix the roads.
“Just driving around, I thought, there has got to be an ice cream for this,” Tunison said.
A.J.’s most popular flavors include Cookie Jar, a mix of the ever popular O‑O-Oreo ice cream with chocolate-chip cookie dough and oatmeal-cookie crumbles, and Scout’s Honor Mint Chip, mint ice cream with chocolate mint cookie balls and chocolate cookie fudge.
“I just like it because their flavors are true to their name,” Beasley said. “Because it is rich in flavor, it is good ice cream that keeps you wanting to come back for more.”
Matt Katz, internal affairs for A.J.’s, said his personal favorite is Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cup.
“It’s the perfect mix of chocolate and peanut butter,” he said. “It’s just everything you want in an ice cream. It’s there for you when you’re happy and when you’re sad. It’s your best friend.”
A.J.’s purchases Ashby’s ice cream through the independent distributor Prairie Farms, a local Michigan dairy company.
Ice cream has become quite the addiction for Hillsdale students. Sometimes, a tub will only last a few hours.
“There has been a time where I put something out at maybe 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then the next morning it is gone,” Beasley said.
The combination of unique flavors, high-quality ice cream, and the easy access at A.J.’s makes Ashby’s irresistible.
“It’s so popular because every student has tried different flavors but they have a favorite flavor, and when they see it, they have to have it,” Katz said.