Explore the local Ann Arbor ice scene for a home
Homemade ice cream is the center of my life. Since I started my summer job in a small family business four years ago, homemade ice cream has been my source of calm. It grounds and calms me in every place and in every situation. When I travel, the first place I meet is the destination’s signature ice cream parlor. Local ice cream parlors with their homely atmosphere can be quiet. But doing business is exciting too, immersing customers in their community’s culture with friendly scooters, unique local flavors, and close neighborhood relationships.
During my first month at the University of Michigan, ice cream from Ann Arbor’s local and family businesses kept me sane.
On my first night in college, I went straight to Blank Slate Creamery. Being there reminded me of why I chose university. It was loud and full of young people, like so much in Ann Arbor, but the warm smell of waffles, cookies and brownies surrounded me like a warm hug. Cute blackboards covered with the writings of friendly customers and waiters covered the shop. Flavors like Apple Cinnamon Crisp invited me to my first fall in the Midwest, while Wolverine Tracks reminded me of the overwhelming spirit of Ann Arbor. Browned Butter Cookie Dough was so rich and comforting that I (almost) saved something for the impending breakdown on the first day of school.
University graduate Janice Sigler opened Blank Slate, a purely natural and completely homemade ice cream shop, together with son Nate Nuttle and husband Jerry Sigler in 2014. Since then, the family has become an invaluable member of the small Ann Arbor community and invaluable to the lives of many students and local regulars. In the eight years the family has grown closer and has remained loyal to Ann Arbor.
“It’s been eight years, and I’m still a little stunned by the opportunity the church gave us… in an interview with The Daily.
The family sources local ingredients ranging from RoosRoast coffee to HOMES Brewery beer to Frog Holler products and Guernsey Farms Dairy. With its community focus, Blank Slate overtakes other local businesses.
“We can share each other’s customers,” noted Nuttle. “When we worked with HOMES Brewery it was a great partnership for us because people who go to HOMES may not go to Blank Slate and people who go to Blank Slate may not know about HOMES yet.”
On the third evening of Welcome Week, I walked the literally and figuratively “lonely street” of State Street to my current campus favorite: Michigan Creamery. Michigan Creamery reminded me of my workplace so much that I almost called my boss (mostly because I wanted to steal their creative flavors for next summer). It has the perfect diner feeling, with light blue walls, funny colorful lighting, a mural by Ann Arbor and almost every imaginable ice cream and chocolate treat. As I dug into my Detroit Grand Slam ice cream (salted caramel espresso swirl topped with espresso chocolate flakes) heaped with hot fudge, I worried that I was going to feel painfully nostalgic for my classic American summer. Instead, I felt satisfied.
While the employees do not make the ice cream or the chocolates on site, they all source products from the region.
“All of our products are made in Michigan,” said owner and manager Sarah Seta proudly in an interview with The Daily.
A sense of craftsmanship and Michigan loyalty permeates the store that Sarah and Jim Seta opened on State Street in 2012. They offer goodies, discounts, and monies for local schools, churches, and nonprofits, employ large numbers of college students, and cater to students who stumble upon State Street late at night. Alpine Chocolat Haus’s stunning display of artisanal chocolates and coffee goodies from the local favorite Bearclaw Coffee leaves customers wondering if two desserts are too many (it never is).
“Everyone we deal with are also local family businesses. So we’re referring to the way they run their business, ”said Seta. “And their products are extraordinary.”
If you say you like ice cream any local will lead you to Washtenaw Dairy. As I sat down to write this article, I realized that I had never visited it before. But once I got in, I never wanted to leave. In the best sense of the word, it feels like a grandparent is taking you out on a hot summer day. Vintage posters cover the dark wood-paneled walls. Aside from the rows of Stroh’s homemade ice cream (a Detroit classic) and fresh donuts and coffee, there’s the perfect little town shop with dairy products, wine, and beer (also in kegs!)
The owner families Smith and Raab have done it the old-fashioned way for 85 years. Her family mindset expands from the ice cream business to the Ann Arbor community. They open early to serve piping hot coffee and classic cake donuts alongside a printed version of The Michigan Daily and do not close the community music school until 8 p.m.
When I spoke to longtime Washtenaw Dairy Scooper Jody Hughes, we were celebrating the simple happiness that can be found in ice cream.
“We’re selling fun,” said Hughes. “There are no angry customers, everyone just likes to come in, get ice cream or donuts and have a good time.”
After the ice makers applauded my correct pronunciation of “Mackinac Island Fudge” ice cream, I went back to my dormitory beaming with a pint of fudgy, fine ice cream in hand. In my month of looking for peace and quiet amidst the chaos of the freshman and looking for a home in a completely strange place, I realized the value of the truest form of comfort food: ice cream. For the first time since arriving in Ann Arbor, I felt right at home.
Blank Slate is located at 300 W. Liberty Street Ann Arbor, MI 48103 and at its new location at 126 E. Grand River Ave, Brighton, MI 48116
Michigan Creamery is located at 302 S State St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Washtenaw Dairy is located at 602 S Ashley St, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Daily Arts Contributor Kaya Ginsky can be reached at [email protected]