Scoops and Swirls – It’s Ice Cream Month!

By Ann Thelen

Scooped, rolled, swirled, whipped and the foundation of sundaes everywhere, ice cream is summertime favorite!

  Ryle Defrancisco (left) and Tiera Cordaro show their ice cream creation. Sweet Swirls uses a rolling technique inspired by street food in Thailand. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy. 

Ryle Defrancisco (left) and Tiera Cordaro show their ice cream creation. Sweet Swirls uses a rolling technique inspired by street food in Thailand. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy. 

From being home to the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” to serving ice cream in a style born from street food in Thailand, Iowa’s ice cream experts know how to put the cherry on top of every way it’s served.

For National Ice Cream Month, we’re celebrating the iconic American treat that stands the test of time. Whether enjoying the earliest of ice cream shops in Iowa to the newest ones found in growing suburbs, ice cream offers dairy-licious goodness for everyone!

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Ice Cream Capital of the World

Nestled in the northwestern corner of Iowa, sits Le Mars, the county seat of Plymouth County. Located on the Floyd River and northeast of Sioux City, the community is home to just shy of 10,000 residents.

Le Mars has a rich history and was once named the fourth fastest growing city in Iowa. The community was named in 1869 when railroad builder John I. Blair arrived by special train with a company of officials and a group of ladies. When the train stopped the ladies were asked to suggest a name for the town, then known as Saint Paul Junction. The ladies' names were

Lucy Underhill, Elizabeth Parson, Mary Weare, Anna Blair, Rebecca Smith and Sarah Reynolds. It is believed that the ladies wrote the first initials of their first names in a creative arrangement to produce the name "Le Mars."

Dubbed in the 1880s as the third most well-known city in the U.S. (third only to New York and Chicago) by the British, Le Mars is now known by an even sweeter standard today. Officially named the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” in 1994, the community is home to Wells, makers of the irresistible Blue Bunny® ice cream. There is more ice cream made in the city of Le Mars than any other one location on earth, earning Le Mars the right to be called the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” – a title it continues to hold.

Sweet Beginnings

According to company history, the sweet beginnings of this ice cream manufacturing icon can be traced to 1913 when Fred H. Wells paid $250 to a local dairy farmer for a horse, delivery wagon, a few cans and jars, and the goodwill of the business. His investment covered the milk distribution route and guaranteed Wells a source of raw milk from a herd of just 15 milk cows.

Years later, Fred H. Wells and his sons began manufacturing ice cream in Le Mars. The popularity of their ice cream grew over the years and distribution in western Iowa increased. In 1927, Fred H. Wells and his brother, Harry C. Wells, began a partnership to distribute ice cream in Sioux City. In 1928, Fairmont Ice Cream purchased the ice cream distribution system in Sioux City from the Wells brothers along with the right to use the Wells name.

In 1935, the Wells brothers decided to again sell ice cream in Sioux City. No longer able to use the name "Wells," Blue Bunny was born when the Wells brothers held a “Name that Ice Cream” contest looking for a brand for their ice cream. A Sioux City man submitted “Blue Bunny” and his rendition of the original logo (known as Blu®) and won $25.

In Le Mars, you can step back in time at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor on Central Avenue. They offer malts and shakes, old-fashioned ice cream sodas, sundaes or simple scoops in a classic cone. Some 40 flavors of ice cream are found just beyond the marble counter, including a few like Huckleberry and Mocha Almond Fudge, which aren’t available in stores. There’s even a self-guided tour with memorabilia from the early ice cream days.

Blue Bunny® was born with the desire to create the fun, playful, delicious ice cream, and Wells has built a legacy on the simplicity of sharing the joy of ice cream. They’ve grown to be the largest privately held, family-owned ice cream and frozen treat manufacturer in the U.S.

They’ve found success in continuously adapting to a changing industry while staying true to what the roots of their founders. To make their delicious ice cream, Wells starts with fresh milk from dairy farms located within 75 miles of their Iowa production facilities.

It seems fitting that a company who created a brand that has transcended across many family meals, picnics, birthday parties and celebrations would call Iowa home – a state that values the hard work of farmers, including dairy farmers who produce high-quality milk for their products.

Blue Bunny® Trivia

Whether you’re picking up a gallon of ice cream at the grocery store or driving to Le Mars for your treat, here are some fun facts to share along the way!

  • Over 100 million gallons of Blue Bunny® ice cream are produced per year. That’s over 250,000 gallons per day! For a fun comparison, Iowa’s 1,200 dairy farms produce approximately 560 million gallons of milk annually.
  • It takes over 1.5 billion sticks a year to make Blue Bunny® ice cream novelties. If you placed them all end to end, it would stretch over three times around the earth’s equator!
  • There are 70 Blue Bunny® ice cream flavors. Vanilla is the most popular Blue Bunny® Ice Cream flavor, followed by Chocolate and Bunny Tracks.
  • The storage freezer at Wells is 12 stories high, a city-block long, holds 53,000 pallets of ice cream and maintains a 20-degree below zero temperature, making it one of the largest and coldest freezers in the world.

Rolling Forward in Time

In the bustling Des Moines suburbs of Ankeny and Johnston, you’ll find ice cream transformed into symmetrical rolled pieces of frozen art called Swirls. You might think it looks like a long, thin cinnamon roll before it bakes, but trust me – no baking is needed for this dessert that immigrated from Thailand.

Sweet Swirls was established in July 2017, by Spencer Quick and Brandon Archer. They were both working at the same restaurant when they became captivated by the concept of rolled ice cream. The two had watched videos on YouTube of rolled ice cream in Thailand, where it’s sold as a street food. They were enamored with the appeal of making the freshest ice cream in the world, so they adapted the style with their own recipe, fresh ingredients and a taste that keeps customers coming back.

The duo started out with an ice cream trailer on wheels and gained success. With Iowa’s winter on the horizon, they brought the business inside in November 2017 and have locations in Uptown Ankeny and Johnston.

Their ice cream is made fresh every day and mixed by hand to perfection. Every ice cream Swirl comes from their homemade liquid vanilla mix. Then, each Swirl is made exactly how each customer wants it, right in front of your eyes.

The base flavor can be vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, coffee or hot chocolate. Then you can add two mix-ins of the following items. Get ready for it… it’s a battle to decide – strawberries, raspberries, cherries, bananas and coconut; Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Pebbles; cheesecake and pretzels; cookies and candy bars; brownie bites, cinnamon rolls and Ghirardelli Pepper Bark; nuts; sauces and whipped cream. And, don't forget the cherry or sprinkles on top!

Creative. Innovative. Flavorful. A Swirl is all these things and more!

Iowa is home to many wonderful ice cream parlors that are both famous across the nation or just within their small town. Whatever the scale of familiarity, there are dairy farmers here in Iowa and across the country that are working hard to produce the quality milk to make everyone’s favorite summertime sweet treat. Visit our Take an Ice Cream Road Trip article for some ideas.