Detroit ice cream stores face obstacles amid pandemic, keep moving forward

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Courtesy of Zahra Saad of The Custard Hut

Hot Waffle Sandwiches sold by The Custard Hut of Dearborn Heights, Michigan

Zahra Saad was startled by the reactions when she announced the opening of her business, the Custard Hut.

“When we opened on April 10, I received multiple death threats, multiple threats on my business and actually had people calling the cops to try to shut me down, but we were allowed to be open,” said Saad.

For many people, ice cream is the go-to staple of the summer. But during a global pandemic that limits face-to-face interaction and differing opinions by the public and business owners alike about when the appropriate time is to open a store, the sweet treat has undergone a lot of changes these past few months.

Several Detroit ice cream stores were forced to close down because of the shelter in place order that was effective March 24. They also had to halt their operations due to the stay-at-home order imposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Instead, they implemented new ways to offer their desserts to customers.

Saad used DoorDash when her sales were low in April and May. She said that DoorDash was helpful on rainy or cold days, but ultimately she had to stop using its services because it was hurting her bottom line.

“I just got rid of DoorDash because they actually take 30% from their business and take 10 to 15% from the people that use the app,” said Saad.

Kyle Hunt, co-owner of Huddle Soft Serve, turned his business into a delivery service during March and April.

“We had an ice cream truck, so we did online sales for pints and then we delivered pints directly to the customer’s houses,” said Hunt. “So no interaction with the customer, properly distanced. We did that for about two months straight, which is wild.”

Courtesy of Aaron Hall of Ice Cream Detroit

Ice Cream Detroit promotional photo

For Aaron Hall, owner of Ice Cream Detroit, the situation put an end to his plans for launching his store this summer. He was in the process of getting his ice cream into stores and attending different events throughout Metro Detroit and around the United States like Coachella in April, which was canceled due to the virus. Hall’s concerns lied in how he was going to get the word out about his company if he could no longer attend events.

“[COVID-19] is going to take away everything,” said Hall. “Everything I had planned for the next six months is done pretty much.”

Hall has now put all of his focus into getting his ice cream in stores and is working with a marketing team to get word out about his brand.

“We’re still working on it,” said Hall. “We’ve still got next year, so it just gives me more time to make my plans and make company stronger.”

Courtesy of Aaron Hall of Ice Cream Detroit

Ice Cream Detroit promotional photo

Hunt and Saad are keeping a positive outlook on their futures, as well.

“Not a lot of people skipped a beat with coming to the storefront,” said Hunt of Huddle Soft Serve. “We still had a lot of traffic when we opened. I think ice cream is one of those things that is nostalgic and comforting and brings a little joy so I think people are seeking that, hence why the business has been so steady even with everything going around.”

Saad’s the Custard Hut has seen a steady flow of numbers in June so far, similar to her numbers from last year.

“My numbers right now are doing fine because the weather is fine, but we had a very, very rough April,” said Saad. “On Sundays, we had to turn DoorDash off because we were so busy.”