A longtime Friendship Heights chocolatier is teaming up with the former owner of the venerable Gifford’s Ice Cream chain to bring back the once popular ice cream to the area.
Mark Schutz, whose family has operated Kron Chocolatier at Mazza Gallerie for 32 years, spent the past four years searching for the recipe of the thick, creamy ice cream that turned Gifford’s into a Montgomery County institution. He ran into a dead end trying to connect with a member of the Gifford family, which started the chain in 1938 in Silver Spring.
However, with the help of a private investigator, he located the address of Dolly Hunt, who owned the Gifford’s brand from the late 1980s until she sold the ice cream shops to her former manager in 1999.
The chain, which at one point had eight shops in the District and Maryland, including a location near Bethesda’s Landmark Theater, as well as an 8,200-square-foot production facility in Silver Spring, was known for its rich ice cream, thick chocolate syrup and lengthy history in the area.
Schutz wasn’t sure how to approach Hunt about his idea to bring the ice cream back and sell it, so he left a note at Hunt’s Bethesda home with his contact information, letting her know he is also a longtime fan of the Swiss chocolate sauce.
Hunt, who says she still makes the Gifford’s caramels for friends, then called Schutz and the two struck a deal to bring back some of the chain’s treats.
“I was excited when he showed an interest,” Hunt said. “There’s no reason I couldn’t do it again. It’s not like I stopped making caramels and I can still make the ice cream too, but you need a big machine for that.”
The plan has one catch—Schutz and Hunt can’t use the Gifford’s name or logo. Hunt’s former manager sold the business to an investor who operated it for years before selling it to a Baltimore investor who ran it into the ground in 2010. After the chain closed, the brand’s trademarks were sold to a different ice cream maker with the same name—Gifford’s of Maine—in 2011.
But that hasn’t deterred the pair.
“We’re bringing Dolly Hunt’s expertise in making chocolate sauces, ice cream and caramels back,” Schutz said Friday as he and Hunt sat together inside Mazza Gallerie.
Hunt said making each batch of ice cream is a little different; it’s not dependent on some “secret” recipe.
“You have to tweak it a little bit,” Hunt said. “Some people just follow a recipe, but sometimes you have to do a little more for every batch. You have to taste it, then you know if it needs a little bit of something.”
She added that ice cream making is also dependent on using the proper technique—ensuring the product is churned at the right speed and the right temperature and that the ingredients are sourced properly.
“If you churn it just right, it makes it melt in your mouth,” Hunt said.
Schutz has already installed a new caramel cooker in his store and was scheduled to receive an ice cream maker Friday from Emery Thompson—the same company that produced Gifford’s equipment.
He said over the next four months he, his son, Alex, and his wife, Trish, will learn from Hunt how to make several of the former chain’s treats. Alex and Trish primarily run the day-to-day operations of the chocolate shop while Mark works as an anesthesiologist in Bethesda.
Schutz said he hopes to begin serving the ice cream in the shop in April, sometime after the busy chocolate sales season that starts with Valentine’s Day and runs through Easter.
“We’re great at chocolate,” Schutz said, “so moving into a different field with a great product, we want to do it slow and right. We’re not going to make a low-quality ice cream product. We’re going for all natural and using real ingredients.”
He recently took a one-week “cow to cone” class at Penn State University to help understand the science behind ice cream making.
Schutz said Kron won’t sell the ice cream by the scoop because the shop doesn’t have enough space. His plan is to have customers call in or order ice cream online, such as pints or half-gallons, and then pick it up at the store after its made fresh. The shop may also offer a “prescription” service in which customers can create their own flavors that the store will make for them. However, longtime flavors that tap into customers’ nostalgia, like the Swiss chocolate ice cream, coconut and traditional vanilla, are likely to be back.
Schutz also said that the shop may offer milkshakes, too, although Hunt warned that shakes didn’t produce much of a profit back when Gifford’s was selling them.
“The kids [who worked at our shops] would put so much ice cream in the shakes, and would be encouraged by the customers to put more and they would make these really thick shakes,” Hunt said. “I don’t know if we made much money on milkshakes.”