When customers turn into the drive thru at Vanity Ice Cream, Earl the rooster welcomes them with a loud “cock-a-doodle-doo.” He’s been doing so for the past eight years, ever since he ran away from the county fairgrounds located just across the street.
Owner Corey Burke said no one knows where Earl lives, but every time the weather gets warmer, Earl comes around to sit on the fence and greet their customers.
Vanity Ice Cream and Drive Thru is just one of Hillsdale County’s several local ice cream shops bringing a variety of refreshing treats and ice creams to the community.
Opened in 1993 by Thomas and Victoria Burke, the family combined both an ice cream shop and a car wash. The car wash closed two years ago after it struggled through the failing economy, and their son, Corey Burke, now owns the ice cream shop.
“We have 22 flavors of ice cream and all kinds of other creations,” Corey Burke said.
Vanity gets their ice cream and supplies from Kuster’s Dairy locally located in Camden, Michigan. Some customers’ flavor favorites are rum black cherry, butter pecan, and chocolate almond.
Corey Burke said one of Vanity’s greatest ice cream creations is their Ultimate Chocolate Overload, a concoction of warm chocolate cake, hot fudge, chocolate ice cream, and topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
“If you don’t think you have a cavity, that’s where you’ll find it,” Corey Burke said.
Ice cream, however, isn’t their only item on the menu. The shop makes their own French fries and is known for their chili dogs, just a few items on their grill menu.
Vanity Ice Cream and Drive Thru will open for the season on Friday, March 16 at noon.
A Dairy Queen used to sit on East Bacon Street back in the 1940s, and survived through several owners until Julie and Julian Kast took over the ice cream shop and grill named Coney’s and Swirls in 2009. They offer a very extensive food menu with options ranging from traditional coney dogs to Mexican food to salads.
Chocolate-covered bananas are one of their specialties attracting many students. The bananas are covered in chocolate and then can be covered in toppings such as sprinkles or peanuts.
“They have been really popular with college students,” Julie Kast said. “It has less calories than an ice cream cone and is dairy-free.”
Dole Whip is also a non-dairy option. Julie Kast said they always carry the pineapple flavor and in the summertime they add orange flavor, when customers can also get a twist of the two flavors.
A popular community favorite is the lemon custard.
“I always have lemon or else people get mad,” Julie Kent said.
The ever-classic chocolate and vanilla twist, however, is the most popular ice cream.
Located in the heart of downtown Hillsdale, Julie Kent said many in the community walk to their shop, and that even the dogs recognize Coney’s and Swirls as a must-stop to get their doggie bowl, vanilla ice cream topped with a dog treat.
The shop is closed November through January, but an indoor seating area, which was recently renovated seats about 20 indoors throughout the other chilly months.
Coney’s and Swirls also gets their ice cream from the local Kuster’s Dairy.
“We wanted to stay local,” Julie Kent said. “Kuster’s Dairy has their own brand. It is super creamy and nobody can compare to Kuster’s.”
Just up Michigan Highway 99, is Udder Side in Jonesville. Owned by Julia and Dave Bauer, the shop has a rich history since it opened as Jonesville Diary Treats in 1952. The shop then moved across the street to the other side, in 1990. Julia Bauer has been in the business for forty years, starting at the age of 16.
They get their soft serve ice cream from Country Fresh and their hard ice creams from both Ashbys and Homemade.
“We try to pick the best quality with the most variety,” Julia Bauer said.
All the ice cream creations and grill items at Udder Side are cow themed and they offer a variety of options.
As far as ice cream goes, Julia Bauer said they can probably make about anything.
One community favorite is the Manure Spreader, a creation of brownie pieces, peanut butter, hot fudge and whipped cream with soft serve ice cream.
Another popular treat is the Pig Pen Nachos, sidewinder curly fries topped with pork bbq, nacho cheese, bbq sauce and sour cream.
In addition to the cow-themed creations, Julia Bauer said that she and her employees know a lot of their customers personally, contributing to a very friendly environment. The walls of the inside of their shop are lined with quotes from things that their customers have said.
“I like to think we foster a very friendly, goofy environment of anything goes,” Julia Bauer said.
One of Hillsdale’s newest ice creams is the selection at Handmade Sandwiches and Beverages on Hillsdale Street. Owner Derek Spiteri started looking around for an ice cream supplier in the summer of 2016, when he found The Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream based out of Madison, Wisconsin. After a day trip to their factory and meeting the owners, Spiteri chose to stock his cooler with their ice creams.
“It was the texture of it, how creamy and dense it was,” he said. “Their flavor combinations are also really unique, which is a trending thing.”
One thing that makes The Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream stand out is their unique artisan flavors. Some popular Hillsdale favorites are honey ginger, espresso bourbon, and red velvet. But one Chocolate Shoppe specialty flavor is titled “This Stuff Just Got Serious” which is a salted caramel ice cream with sea salt fudge and salted cashews. Spiteri said when out-of-town guests hear of the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, This Stuff Just Got Serious is often the first flavor they ask for.
“Being one of the more recent places to offer ice cream in Hillsdale, because I’m not the first, something different was important to me.”
Finish Line Restaurant, which is currently closed for renovations, also sells a selection of ice cream and sundae specials.