It's been about a year and a half since Mabel Gray owner James Rigato and pastry chef Kristina Conger re-opened the shuttered Doug's Delights on John R in Hazel Park.
The old-school corner dairy had been closed for three years when Rigato first bought the building. He did so mainly for its commissary; the tiny Mabel Gray kitchen just kiddie corner was getting a bit tight for Conger's pastry work and burgeoning catering business.
But if you're going to buy an old ice cream shop, it seems a shame not to actually sell ice cream.
"I figured if we're doing it as a commissary, why not keep the ice cream shop up and running during the season," says Conger.
And so Doug's Delights opened in April 2018 with a down-home spread of sweet-and-salty snacks that Rigato has deemed "bowling-alley chic" cuisine. While Conger keeps busy crafting desserts for Mabel Gray and wedding cakes for her catering business in the back kitchen, a tribe of what she calls her "kids" run the shop up front, slinging soft-serve ice cream, shakes and malts, chili fries, and tater tots.
Those "kids" are current students or recent graduates of Hazel Park High School who have found a part-time job, and a community, at Doug's Delights.
"I like hiring the local kids and giving them a job opportunity," says Conger. "For a lot of them, it's their first or second job."
Kristina Conger, Co-owner, Doug's Delights
One of those "kids" is Angel Blackburn. She started working at Doug's Delights just after it opened. She's also begun working as a dishwasher at Mabel Gray, and will start culinary school this fall at Oakland Community College's Oakridge Campus.
"It feels like a family," she says. "A lot of the people who work here are people I've grown up with. It's great to be around people that you know. We love our regulars and we love new faces as well."
She says growing up in Hazel Park was tough at times because most of her friends didn't have a lot of money. But she sees a bright future ahead.
"Things are finally starting to turn around," she says. "The big thing we had here was the racetrack, and now that it's gone, we're starting to make a new name for ourselves."
Angel Blackburn, counter staff, Doug's Delights
Hazel Park resident Thaad Sabolboro bought a home in the city with his wife Eden three years ago, and visits Doug's Delights with son Dallas. He's a fan of the tater tots.
Sabolboro likes living in the city because it's "quiet and not pretentious." He likes the improvements he's seen along John R and isn't worried about the city becoming gentrified. It's a good mix of "bougie and non-bougie," he says.
Dallas Sabolboro with dad Thaad at Doug's Delights.
Deborah McLeod likes to bring her grandchildren Nora, Arlo and Maisy and their dog Muffy to Doug's Delights when she babysits for her daughter, who moved to Hazel Park about a year ago.
"She loves that is so walkable," says McLeod about her daughter. "She grew up in Romeo in the middle of nowhere. So no sidewalks. It's a big change and she loves it, the walkability and the nightlife."
In addition to walking to Doug's Delights, the family enjoys walking to parks and playgrounds in the area. According to Arlo, the best thing about Doug's Delights is the strawberry cone coated in crushed Oreos.
Deborah McLeod and grandchildren Arlo, Nora, and Maisy,
Mom and daughter pair Shawnda and Maranda Brown live nearby in Detroit, just south of 8 Mile and John R, but they do their grocery shopping Hazel Park at Kroger. Of course, a stop at Doug's Delights for ice cream and curly chili fries often rounds out the trip.
Maranda, who just started the fourth grade, is a fan of the Oreo shake. And Shawnda is a fan of the "good service, good food, and great ice cream."
Trisha Adams has lived in Hazel Park her whole life and grew up just a couple of blocks from Doug's Delights.
"This is my roots, this is where I'm from," she says. She thinks the changes along John R are great, especially the increase in gathering spots like Doug's Delights and Joebar.
"You never used to be able to drive down John R and see people standing outside getting together as you do now," she says. She's not yet convinced that the bike lanes are a good idea but hopes even more shops and restaurants join the fray on John R.
"It'd be nice to see even more development. Look at all these buildings just waiting."
Trisha Adams and family at Doug's Delights in Hazel Park.