The sweet smell hits immediately. It’s from the 30 tubs of ice cream or maybe the fresh-baked, hand-made waffle cone just waiting for the perfect scoop. Or two or three scoops, if you’re going to be honest with yourself.
“You can’t leave here in a bad mood or frustrated,” says owner Shannon Imler. “If you’re frustrated or upset before you come here, when you take your first bite or walk in and smell the scoop shop, you’re already feeling better. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like ice cream. Everyone is our customer.”
Shannon and his team have been dishing up delicious scoops of ice cream, creamy milk-shakes and unique sundaes at the Ice Cream Factory since opening in April 2019. The downtown Eldon facility produces all of the Ice Cream Factory’s sweet treats for sale at an on-property shop, a second location in Jefferson City as well as restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores across Missouri.
Shannon had previously been in the ice cream business with a shop. “It didn’t work out. We were selling other people’s ice cream; it was the same stuff that other people were selling,” he says. “I knew we had to stick out and have our own brand. We were going to make our ice cream, create flavors, make it a different experience and have a better environment.”
Shannon found the perfect home for his vision in the 14,000-square-foot former cheese plant in his hometown of Eldon. The facility was used by Kraft to make smoked cheeses from the 1930s to 1970s. It was in rough shape in 2018 when Shannon acquired it.
“The roof had peeled off and was flapping in the wind,” he says. “It needed a ton of work. We were able to buy it at a low price and then spend the money we saved investing in our business and community.”
A two-story scoop shop, drive-thru and open-air seating area make up the front of the building. They’ve restored almost the entire factory and are still working on expansion. The former smoking room is now where Shannon and his team make 2,500 tubs and 25,000 pints of ice cream each week.
The Ice Cream Factory uses a 14% butterfat mix, compared to a normal 10% mix. “That puts us into the premium ice cream category,” Shannon says. “That does three things for us. The ice cream is creamier, smoother and more flavorful.”
They make their high butterfat ice cream in a small-batch freezer, getting four tubs out of each batch. “After our base is made, we hand layer premium ingredients to make our final product,” Shannon says. “That means real Oreo’s, Andes Mints, homemade gooey butter cake pieces.”
In total, the crew at the Ice Cream Factory makes 70 different flavor combinations throughout the year. Each scoop shop is stocked with 30 flavors at a time and their 10 most popular are available in retail stores.
There’s many different flavors that catch your eye. The Cobalt Cookie is a bright blue ice cream base with cookie dough and chocolate chips added. The bright yellow Tiger King features cake batter, Oreo’s and buttercream frosting and is an homage to the popular Netflix series that debuted earlier this year.
One of the most popular flavors and Shannon’s favorite is the Gooey Butter Cake. “It’s a 14% butterfat base butter and cream cheese ice cream that has caramel and butterscotch hand layered into it,” Shannon says. “Then you get these big 1-inch square chunks of gooey butter cake made by Angela’s Lake Catering. So it’s locally made.”
The Ice Cream Factory sources Missouri-made ingredients for other flavors too. The brownies are from Angela’s, the pecans are from King Hill Farms in Brunswick, milk for the shakes from Ozark Mountain Creamery in Mountain Grove and they get honey from a local apiary.
The one-, two-or three-scoop cups or waffle cones are the main draw at the Ice Cream Factory. However, for some over-the-top decadence try the Triple Chocolate Brownie Sundae. A homemade waffle bowl is loaded with brownies and drizzled with hot fudge, then topped with ice cream, more brownies, more hot fudge and a cherry on top.
In addition to the two scoop shops, Ice Cream Factory fans can get their fix at more than 100 restaurant and retail locations. Bee’s Knees Ale House in Versailles counts on the Ice Cream Factory to provide them with their honey ice cream. Owner Chris Byars says that local connection helps his ale house stand out.
“A lot of our customers already might drive over to Eldon so they know the quality and skill Shannon and his staff have at making ice cream,” Chris says. “They’re happy they can get that here when they come and dine with us, especially when we can tell them the ice cream uses local honey.”
The Jefferson City location opened on Leap Day this year. The timing wasn’t ideal as COVID-19 shut down most all businesses a few weeks later. “I told our employees it could always be worse, we have to do what we can,” Shannon says. “For most of March through May, we delivered ice cream to a 30-mile radius of the store. It was an opportunity for us to maybe find some new customers and deliver a little happiness.”
Bringing joy to people didn’t stop once the weather got hotter. Starting in late July, Shannon started his “Tour of Happiness.” The 14-day, 131-city tour spread throughout Missouri and parts of Arkansas. The Ice Cream Factory trailer would show up in the new city, hand out free scoops to everyone in line then head down the road to the next city.
“At the time everything was getting cancelled and people still weren’t sure about school,” he says. “We thought we could bring a little happiness to people’s lives. We went through more than 16,000 scoops and got to meet some great people, especially in Missouri’s smaller towns.”
Shannon knows that happiness is key to keep delivering treats to Missourians. “When people come here, they’re going to feel valued and excited to sit down and have the ice cream,” Shannon says. “We’ve got great ice cream that’s delicious. But I tell our team all the time, we’re not in the ice cream business, we’re in the experience business.”