How Sweet It Is!
At first glance, the brick storefront in downtown White Center, just outside Seattle’s city limits, doesn’t look like the gourmet ice cream shop featured, in co-owner Ann Magyar’s words, “in The New York freakin’ Times!”
But taste one creamy, savory-sweet spoonful of Full Tilt Ice Cream’s salted caramel and you’ll understand why.
And when you’re driving around Bellingham, desperately looking for a parking place on a bustling Saturday afternoon, you wouldn’t know that one of the reasons for the city’s downtown resurgence is meltingly smooth and creamy chocolate sour cream, one of more than 28 flavors Mallard Ice Cream serves up at any given time.
Both Ann Magyar ’98, and Mallard’s owner, Ben Scholtz ’92, run ice cream shops filling a need that goes beyond a delicious treat or inexpensive luxury. They believe that running a neighborhood business featuring unique, locally sourced products creates far-reaching benefits for their communities.
In the 1980s, downtown Bellingham was devastated when the new Bellis Fair Mall opened. But over the past two decades, the area has rebounded, thanks to a number of progressive small business owners like Scholtz, whose career started in nonprofits, including the Seattle Art Museum. “I wanted to do something with the values and cultural mission of a nonprofit but in a for-profit way,” he says. “That gives you greater leverage and the greatest opportunity to try out your ideas and make a difference.”
The Mallard building, a former tavern, was vacant for more than 10 years before Scholtz bought it. As part of remodeling the building, they opened up the entire front wall and installed neon signs and awnings to create a distinctive presence. In the summer, 800 to 1,000 customers line up daily to enjoy coconut chocolate chunk (with almonds!), strawberry cheesecake, or more exotic flavors like rose, coriander, green tea, and avocado. Bringing that many people downtown “changes the vibe of the place,” Scholtz says. It’s also brought attention from regional and national media outlets like Sunset magazine, USA Today and NPR.
Magyar, who also has a brand new baby and full-time career as a high school teacher, moved to White Center with her co-owner and husband Justin Cline because they could afford to buy a home there. “It had a reputation as a bad part of town,” says Magyar. Through a number of community forums sponsored by the University of Washington’s urban planning department, they learned about the public’s desire for an ice cream shop where families could hang out. “We started here because we live here and the neighborhood needed it,” Magyar explains. Today, they have stores in Columbia City, Ballard and Seattle’s U District, featuring pinball machines, arcade games and even live music.
Both Mallard and Full Tilt feature flavors inspired by their surround-ings, from Full Tilt’s ube (a takeoff of a Filipino yam treat) and Mexican chocolate, to Mallard’s fresh mint, grown on a local farm, and espresso, featuring locally roasted coffee. Scholtz describes his shop’s culture as “an Evergreen coordinated studies program with the theme ‘ice cream shop.’”
Based on its popularity, Mallard could expand, but Scholtz puts his energy into strengthening the company’s core. “The reason to do something new is to pose interesting questions,” he says. “So we continue to be more reflective about what we do and how to make it better. We don’t want to compromise the quality of the product or the experience. The care and attention to detail by the people making the ice cream is key to our success.”
Care for employees, ingredients and local communities make both stores’ ice cream taste a whole lot sweeter. “As a teacher, I use the general concepts of integrating everything, and that mindset has allowed us to do this,” Magyar says. “The stores pull together different cultures and lifestyles and make more of a community center than just a business. When you see how different pieces fit together, you can do creative things.”