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Uplifting sounds of gospel music fill the air in the block where Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats stands in Old Town Alexandria. The line of customers winds from the service window down the stairs and along the sidewalk at 200 Commerce Street on a Sunday in June. The frozen custard shop housed in a historic building in Virginia started attracting crowds from the moment it opened Memorial Day weekend.
“It was raining that Saturday, but honestly, we had a long line. The community showed their love. It was very moving. Folks came and waited patiently. They had a wonderful experience,” says Brandon Byrd, founder of Goodies. The road he traveled to owning and opening a brick-and-mortar shop took the entrepreneur up some steep hills and around some sharp curves. Still, he knew the Mutual Ice Co. building was exactly what he wanted.
Love at First Sight
Byrd first spotted a boarded-up building on Commerce Street around 2013. He could see the word ICE on the art deco façade and recognized the potential the property offered. “I just saw this cute little building. I just fell in love with this cute little building, and I was like, ‘Whatever it is, I want it,’” says the Goodies’ owner.
The long search for the right place to put his frozen custard shop had already taken Byrd all around the Washington, D.C. region. Another five years would go by before Boyd Walker, the Mutual Ice Co. building owner, decided to sell the 300 square foot space to Byrd. “Boyd and I became friends. What connected us was the building. But what made us continue to have a relationship or develop the friendship was because there was genuine respect for one another,” Byrd says.
Walker had aspirations of opening a gelato shop in the 90-year-old former Ice House he bought in 2004. He wanted to form a partnership and lease the space to Byrd. “But he really wanted to have ownership of the building, and I certainly understand the pride of ownership,” Walker says.
Byrd remained firm on buying Goodies’ first home. “I’ve always been of the mindset of owning my building. If you own the real estate, you have much more control over the longevity of the business.”
The old Ice House underwent a few changes over the five years as Byrd looked elsewhere for a place and waited. Walker put in new windows, painted the building and added a new roof. After accepting that he lacked the knowledge and skill to turn it into a gelato shop himself, Walker sold the property to Byrd in 2018 without putting it on the open market.
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“One of the things I always tell folks is that Boyd could have sold the Ice House to anyone, to be very honest. There had been plenty of people who had reached out to him and expressed interest in that building,” Byrd says.
Patience Pays Off
Ice barons constructed the Mutual Ice Co. satellite location in 1931. They used it to store ice delivered to customers by horse and carriage. Not long after the little blue and white building became Goodies’ home, a pandemic knocked Byrd’s renovation plans off course. He had counted on using money from his mobile frozen custard business to help pay for extensive work on the Ice House. The entrepreneur scrambled to keep Goodies going after his steady customer base of office workers vanished.
“Obstacles, in my opinion, are meant to test character,” says Byrd. “You can look at it and be like, ‘Man, why did this all happen to me?’ Or you can look at it and say, ‘What lesson am I supposed to be learning from this too?’” Goodies’ owner took his 1952 Metro van named Gigi into the suburbs and apartment complexes to keep rolling during the pandemic.
The setback in opening the Alexandria location sooner reinforced what Byrd already believed about God’s plans being better than man’s timetable. “I really understood that more and more as I went through this journey and this process. Just be patient. If it ain’t this, it’s going to be something else. Whatever it is, it’s going to be the best thing for you. I, in my heart, believe that, and I never wavered,” Byrd says.
As a business owner, he also knew some onlookers expected him to fail. Instead, Byrd managed to completely refurbish the Ice House inside and out on his own. His sister’s fiancé, Fred Graves, owner of Graves Home Improvement LLC, did most of the renovation work. Byrd applied for but did not receive any help from local or federal funding sources. “The real story is that during the pandemic, the local municipalities and federal government were giving out millions of dollars in grant funds. I qualified, but I’m not a benefactor of any of that,” Byrd adds.
It is a familiar story to countless Black business owners. McKinsey & Company, a firm that provides public sector and social sector insights, said this in a recent online report: “Throughout the business-building process, Black business owners face economic, market, sociocultural and institutional barriers, which are all linked to racial discrimination in the United States. Economic barriers relate to disempowerment and the costs of low starting levels of capital—for individuals, families, and communities.”
Studies show the pandemic had a more detrimental impact on minority-owned businesses. Byrd refused to give up. He used the months between purchasing the historic building and opening day to expand Goodies’ following through Instagram and other social media platforms. “I had an adequate amount of time to really let folks be a part of the journey. The other beautiful thing is, when people can see what you are doing from afar and see the progress, they appreciate it more.”
A local NBC4 news report captured the opening celebration that rainy on May 29. Byrd’s 3-year-old great-niece, Aviana, is seen in the video helping to hand out frozen treats. Her custom-made apron and hat probably garnered as many fans as the homemade custard.
“Brandon certainly realized all the potential that I knew the building had with outdoor dining and being able to create a community gathering spot there,” says Walker, former owner of the Ice House. “I think people come for more than just the ice cream. They come for the experience of being there with all the great ambiance and 1950s vibe. It’s great. I even hear people talking about it just walking around on the street. Have you been to the Ice House yet, or have you heard about this place?”
The vintage appearance of the Ice House with the old Coca-Cola cooler, Route 66 gas pump and American flag bunting stand out. The border of planters with colorful flowers and herbs makes the outdoor patio area a welcoming sight. Byrd is grateful for the support he received when he hosted a community garden day.
“Literally, the neighborhood came out and planted everything. Groomed them, watered them and fertilized them. Now, people still come by, and if they see something needs to be done, they’ll do it. If anybody wants basil or mint, they can come by and get it.”
Birth of the Goodies Brand
Byrd’s ability to connect with customers began while he was still in high school, selling candy and collecting aluminum cans for recycling. The teen entrepreneur continued to develop his marketing skills as a concert promoter before joining corporate America. He got burned out working as a marketing and events director for a hip hop publication in New York City and decided to start his own business. “If it didn’t work out, I was young enough to go back to corporate America. If it did work out, I would continue to work for myself,” he says.
Goodies rolled out in 2012 after Byrd refurbished his 1952 Metro van. Gigi traveled throughout the D.C. area, and its owner attracted loyal customers selling his frozen custard and specialties. He advertised the mobile business as a step back in time to the days of rock & roll music and old-fashioned desserts.
“My brand has always been the foundation. You have to be credible and authentic yourself before you sell it to anyone else. You take a historic brand like Goodies, and you marry it with a historic building; it makes the connection that much more authentic.”
The entrepreneur’s love of history and vintage treasures was sparked when he spent time with his stepfather in Northern California. Byrd describes Chris Daniels as a modern-day Sanford and Son who owned a junkyard. “I would spend a lot of time tweaking vintage cars and tracking Americana memorabilia. A lot of my love for vintage cars was inspired by him. You look at the Ice House now, and Goodies in general, and a lot of that is conveyed,” says Goodies’ owner.
Homemade frozen custard became a passion while Byrd lived in Wisconsin. “I grew up making custard with my mom. I spent most of my time in the kitchen with her instead of outside playing,” he explains. “For Goodies, a lot of the inspiration came from my childhood. When you take that and start looking at those memories and important moments, it’s the things that you can relate to; the things that really tell your story.”
In his opinion, Wisconsin represents the gold standard for frozen custard. At Goodies, Byrd makes and serves the real deal. The dairy dessert, legally speaking, must contain 1.4% egg yolk solids by weight, according to Serious Eats. “It’s made fresh every day. It’s frozen at a warmer temperature, so it minimizes the ice crystals. Frozen custard is slow-churned, so less air is pumped into it. You are actually getting more of the cream, sugar, eggs and dairy.”
Frozen custard’s luscious, soft-serve consistency and deeper flavor come through because less air is incorporated in the continuous freezer machines required to make it. A local dairy supplies what Byrd uses for his custard base that has 40% butterfat, whole eggs and vanilla concentrate.
He creates a menu of specialties with the vanilla bean custard served in white takeout boxes. The most popular is the “Boogie Woogie” turtle pecan sundae made with Georgia butter pecans, Hersey’s chocolate syrup and homemade caramel sauce.
Customers can order frozen treats with cake or pie toppings, brownies, donuts, candy, cookies and whipped cream. The menu offers shakes, sundaes, homemade ginger beer and daily specials made with the vanilla bean custard, such as peach cobbler ala mode and banana pudding sundaes.
“I don’t really have an exact rhythm or reason of what I pick each day to make. It really comes down to how I feel that day, what’s in season or what is coming up on the horizon. Pretty much, 99% of what I make are treats from my childhood,” Byrd says.
Laborers to Landlord
Now that Goodies has a brick-and-mortar home, people can come by Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 6 pm and sample Byrd’s frozen custard and treats. He plans to keep Gigi as part of his operation, including for catering events. “I have another vintage van I’m working on, and I want to finish rehabbing it and get it active. I’m really just focusing on making Goodies brand that much stronger.”
His friend Walker applauds Byrd for his business savvy and his efforts to support other vendors, especially African American small business owners. “I sold it to Brandon because I knew he would be successful. I really appreciate now that he’s there and being able to promote other Black businesses through cross-marketing,” Walker says.
Byrd takes particular pride in knowing an African American man owns the place where Black laborers once cut and hauled ice blocks. It also matters to him that Goodies is located close to what was once the largest domestic slave trading company in the U.S. That National Historic Landmark is now the Freedom House Museum.
“When you think about it, it is remarkable. It is no small feat to own the Ice House, one of the most iconic buildings in Old Town Alexandria. Like my ancestors from the 1800s used to farm some land in Alabama. Now my family owns that land,” says Byrd.
The founder of Goodies can depend on relatives living in the D.C. area for help, including his mom Anita.” He also appreciates the support from new and familiar customers walking to the ice house from Old Town Alexandria neighborhoods or driving from other Virginia, D.C. and Maryland locations.
That includes this writer who traveled 29 miles and back to try his frozen custard topped with chocolate syrup, pecans, caramel and whipped cream. And like many other fans, she will be in the line again.