The Little Ice Cream Shop that Could

Cammie Wayne knows that the business she bought in 1998 is a real treasure. Founded in 1969, her Old Dutch ice cream shop has a devoted following, with parents bringing their children to the same placed they loved as kids.

Despite its trendy location in Mobile’s Midtown area, on a street lined with restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops, Wayne has tried to maintain all the nostalgia the shop evokes.

But when she made a change, it was a bold one. Wayne is now making her own ice cream in-house. Ice cream is the only product at Cammie’s Old Dutch, so she took an enormous risk when she chose the added responsibility and expense of making it herself. But it’s a risk that’s already paying off.

The shop itself is a living time warp, looking much the same as it did in 1969 when Edwin Widemire, a Mobilian of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, first opened the doors of what was then Widemire’s Old Dutch. Housed in a former Texaco filling station, the shop still has big glass windows across a bright-yellow front; an L-shaped ice cream counter with some 40 flavors; a bar along the back with wooden barstools and a nicked, orange countertop, and a dining area with brown paneling, round tables and dainty white iron chairs.

After she purchased the shop, customers thought she had replaced the wallpaper featuring Dutch and Bicentennial themes. In fact, all she did was scrub away the nicotine stains from years of smoking, which she banned.

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Wayne worked for Widemire when she was 16 years old. “I only lasted six months, ” she says, with the notoriously gruff boss. Yet Old Dutch ice cream became her gold standard; nothing else compared. Sixteen years later, when she had two children of her own, Wayne took them to Old Dutch and asked Widemire whether he ever planned to sell his business.

By chance Widemire was looking for a buyer. He interviewed Wayne, and he seemed pleased with her answers to his most important questions: “Are you going to change anything?” and “Are you going to sell anything other than ice cream?” She said “no” to both, and Old Dutch was hers.

Recipe for success

Necessity caused her to make one major change. For more than 25 years, Dairy Fresh had made Old Dutch’s ice cream. When its plant in Greensboro, Ala., started shutting down about two years ago, Wayne had a decision to make. She could become a Mayfield, Blue Bell or Hershey ice cream shop, or she could start making her own. No offense to any of those brands, Wayne says, but “I prefer mine.”

In the interim, she had to carry other brands. “It was twice as expensive, ” she says. “I had a whole year of losing money every time I dipped an ice cream cone.”

With the help of a local food distributor, her husband, Larry, and the Internet, she found a dairy that would make the basic recipe for her ice cream as a special order. After purchasing new refrigerators and a batch freezer, Wayne says she “nailed it on the head” in just two weeks. She was making authentic, delicious Old Dutch ice cream herself by June of 2011. Her husband converted a former supply closet into the “creamery, ” and she added a new sign on the wall proclaiming Old Dutch’s ice cream homemade.

The formula, made to Wayne’s specifications exclusively for Old Dutch, has less butterfat content than most ice creams. It arrives twice a week during the summer months and once a week during the winter and must remain refrigerated after it’s poured into the ice cream freezer. Wayne can make five-and-a-half gallons in just 12 minutes, mixing in ingredients as the ice cream comes out in a soft-serve consistency. She likes to use as many local ingredients as possible, including Tanner’s pecans and Chilton County peaches (and she only makes peach ice cream when the peaches are in season). Twenty-four hours later, after it hardens in the walk-in freezer, the ice cream is ready to serve to customers.

Because it’s made in-house, the ice cream’s temperature never varies the way store-bought ice cream does—so there are never any ice crystals, Wayne says, and it tastes fresher and better.

“Now that we’re homemade, it’s flying out the door so fast I can’t keep up with it anymore, ” she says.

The Waynes (Larry helps make the ice cream behind the scenes on his days off from his full-time job, while Cammie runs the shop) have had fun experimenting with new flavors, such as Red Velvet Cake, Moon Pie and Carrot Cake. Old Dutch also is known for its Peppermint ice cream, a bestseller year-round that’s also sold at several fine-dining restaurants in Mobile.

In fact, Wayne has entered the wholesale business, supplying a pharmacy in Satsuma with 20 flavors, in addition to providing ice cream to restaurants. “I want to sell them a fantastic product at a reasonable price, where they can also make money, ” she says.

Though she’d like to find more customers for the wholesale side of her business, she has no intention of opening another Old Dutch shop. Instead, she focuses her energy on helping the mostly teenage staff learn the basics of hard work and customer service. “They’re not used to looking people in the eye, ” she says of today’s generation, whose gazes are usually focused downward, texting. When they come to work for her, many of her young employees have never held a broom or a mop. “This is their first job; I’m their teacher, ” she says.

After all, look what happened to Cammie Wayne. Her first job led full circle with her now owning the successful small business where she got her start.

Michelle Roberts Matthews is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.

By Michelle Roberts Matthews

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