Scot Pirie loves ice cream more than you.
Andrew Pirie, Scot's son and operations manager for Midland-based Great Lakes Ice Cream Company, probably does too. While Scot still works every day at the company he founded, he prefers to have his son handle interviews, and Andrew was more than up for the task to talk all things ice cream. He began by telling stories of his father, who would often bring home quarts of different ice cream and complain about how sparse the best ingredients were.
"His favorite thing to do at night was to get out a tub of Moose Tracks and just scoop out and eat the chocolate swirl and peanut butter cups," says the younger Pirie. "He always felt like there was never enough of the good stuff."
That repeated experience led Scot to experiment with making his own ice cream, eventually founding Great Lakes Ice Cream Company in 2003. His focus was to ensure every bite included the best ingredients.
"We train our ice cream makers to make sure every bite includes those added ingredients," says Halee Pirie, Andrew’s wife and the production manager at Great Lakes Ice Cream Co.
"Our number one seller is Pictured Rocks," adds Andrew. "It's a fudge-flavored ice cream with fudge swirls, brownie chunks, and chocolate chip cookie dough."
Each of their continually-evolving flavors are made by hand at their Midland headquarters, located at 901 E. Ashman St. The team is busy year-round not only selling to customers out of their shop, but filling orders for 15 different locations around the region who carry their product.
Each of their continually-evolving flavors of ice cream are made by hand. Pictured here is Pictured Rocks.
"Providing for different vendors has helped us branch out and create more variety," says Andrew. "A lot of farms in the area like to carry our products during growing season. We work with a you-pick blueberry farm that asked us to create an ice cream with their berries."
As for other flavors, in the beginning it was trial and error, explains Andrew. Over the course of 18 years in business, they credit their customers who provide feedback, and of course, his dad's years of experience taste-testing.
"The first year he opened up the store, he just put together flavors he thought sounded good," says Andrew, who has worked at the shop since he was a teen.
"We're always experimenting with new things," adds Halee. "We have all the employees try new recipes first, and that helps ensure it will be a hit."
In the summer months, Great Lakes Ice Cream hires up to 20 staff to keep up with demand. In the fall and winter, they keep eight on staff. While demand does dip in colder months, they recently made the decision to keep their storefront open for walk-in orders throughout the winter.
"Our ice cream makers are here all the time anyway, so it just makes sense to stay open," says Andrew. "And we're able to keep on a few more employees in the winter that way, so it works out great."
When asked what his favorite part of running an ice cream company is, Andrew did not hesitate.
"Making new flavors. There are some holiday flavors coming up that I'm excited about. This year, we're going to be making a marmalade ice cream."
Halee says it's all about the customers.
"Our whole goal is just to make people happy. It's hard to eat ice cream with a frown on your face."
Peeking into the colorful tubs of ice cream at the front counter, it's easy to see why customers keep coming back.
Making new flavors is Andrew's favorite part about running an ice cream shop. This is Dog Puke.
As with every food service operation, Great Lakes Ice Cream has had to deal with the impact of selling food during a pandemic. They have been taking all appropriate precautions, including limiting the number of people in the shop and requiring masks for staff and visitors. But when asked about any negative impact to sales, his answer might surprise you.
"Ice cream is a really unique industry," explains Andrew. "It really started to boom during the great depression. When so many other businesses were failing, ice cream was a growing industry. It's a little treat, doesn't cost a ton of money, and can still thrive during challenging times. We've grown in sales and foot traffic every year, and we're on track for the same in 2020."
"We're very lucky to be in this industry," adds Halee. "Everything we sell here is easy to pick up quickly and take home."
The future is looking bright for the relatively young company. They recently opened a location in Shields, and are looking for other locations throughout the state. The Pirie's are also busy perfecting a hot chocolate recipe that should keep customers coming back throughout the winter.
"We're happy to provide unique products, and for twenty bucks or so your family can come out and make [their] night better," says Andrew.
Great Lakes Ice Cream Company will be open seven days a week until January, when they will switch to four days a week. Their full hours and services can be found online at www.greatlakesicecreamcompany.com.