Written by Greg Kellner, Senior Assistant Director, Crane Lake Camp
Over the last few months I have seen my favorite Berkshire ice cream appearing all over the place: Whole Foods, Fairway, Wild By Nature, and other stores. I began to wonder, what’s the secret to SoCo’s success? I called Dan, who owns the company, got in my car and drove up to the Berkshires, and sat down with Dan to learn more about the ice cream that I grew up loving!
During the summer, SoCo is a packed hangout for both Crane Lake and Eisner staff and, on visiting day, lines are out the door. Check out the end of this post for a list of stores where you can buy SoCo ice cream all over the NY, NJ, and Boston areas. Consider it as a Chanukah present this December for the whole family.
Don’t forget to leave a comment about your favorite flavor and if you have had any “SoCo Sightings” in a store near you. I should also note that Dan and I met at 9 am. Before 10 am, I had already consumed a scoop of Espresso Cookie, a scoop of Moca Almond, one waffle cone, and a slice of ice cream pie that the manager, Robbie, was “testing out.” The Breakfast of Champions!
Greg: How did you get into making ice cream?
Dan: I started in 1989 with my mom, Bev, when I graduated from University of Wisconsin, Madison. I wanted to go into film, but I decided to help my mom out when she fell in love with the Berkshires. We bought a small family-owned ice cream shop in Lenox. I moved from my home in California to the Berkshires and I just fell in love with the area. I loved the craft of making ice cream and I had a passion for making food.
Greg: How’d you develop this great ice cream?
Dan: I took over the Bev’s stores in 2005, and since then I’ve been solidifying the brand. We have really become such a part of the community.
Greg: What are you most proud of about the business?
Dan: It has really become a huge part of the Berkshire community. I was intimately involved in getting our ice cream into stores and Berkshire restaurants. Families grow up in our stores. I have kids who work for me now who I knew when they were in diapers. There are people from all over the world who come here!
Greg: Tell me about how you have developed or changed the ice cream over the years?
Dan: In the past few years, we made the product all natural, using fresh and local ingredients as much as possible. There were never any hormones and I use all cane sugar, not corn syrup, since there has been such a frenzy about it in the media.
Greg: How did you decide to start distributing to supermarkets?
Dan: There are so many people from New York, New Jersey, and Boston that have second homes here. We thought we could grow our brand to go to the natural areas where people already know our brand and the culture of SoCo ice cream. I think there really is a pool of loyal customers who love what we do, understand it, and have great memories attached to it.
Greg: Is the ice cream in the store different than in the Berkshires?
Dan: It’s exactly the same! Same ingredients and the same process.
Greg: How do you get all of the ice cream to so many places?
Dan: We have a 10,000 square foot freezer. (Picture a freezer one-third the size of a football field. Woah! That’s a big freezer!) It’s up in Pittsfield and we ship everything out from there. It’s a lot of ice cream!
Greg: What makes your ice cream different?
Dan: It’s my own formula. We’ve now gotten big enough where we can work with a dairy to ensure what we do and don’t want in in the milk. It’s very creamy, but on the sugar end it is not very sweet. It’s not overly sweet and people notice it… in a good way. Most commercial ice creams are so incredibly sweet. The consumers notice the difference and appreciate that the sweetness is different than most other ice creams. It’s super fresh and not too sweet.
Greg: In the store how many ice cream cones do you sell?
Dan: On a summer Saturday, we’ll sell more than 1,000 cones a day. For sure, many of the cones are sold to Crane Lake and Eisner Campers. If you are here on a Saturday night, there are so many camp staff. It’s fun, it’s social, and each day I can say I can make 1,000 people really happy.
Greg: How do you come up with new flavors?
Dan: We pretty much stick with the repertoire we have. People like it. I am not into gimmicks or going too out there with anything like a tomato-basil… people just won’t buy it. Years ago I did a vegetable smoothie sorbet. It was real intense, but I think it was a bit before its time (13 years ago) when I created it.
Greg: I hear your ice cream is Kosher.
Dan: Yeah! We’re not doing anything like maple bacon or lobster. It’s a big deal for us that we are Kosher! It is a lot of work to make sure it’s Kosher and maintain it, but it’s important too us. We even have Kosher marshmallows!
Greg: What’s your favorite flavor?
Dan: The Dirty Chocolate and I like anything with coffee… The Espresso Cookie.
Greg: What flavor sells the best?
Dan: We sell way more Espresso Cookie than Strawberry. Mexicali Chocolate is huge! We can’t keep it in the store when it’s up there. We just released Salted Caramel, a lightly sea salty caramel ice cream with caramel crunchies that soften up a bit and it’s ridiculously popular. We sold out of it the first day we had it!
Greg: What does your family holiday dessert look like?
Dan: An apple or blueberry cobbler. My wife usually makes it. It’s not a huge buffet of endless ice cream. But, whenever I go to a dinner party, I have to bring ice cream. I once didn’t bring ice cream with me and I never heard the end of it!
Greg: Do you guys do any philanthropic work?
Dan: We are very involved in Charlie’s Fund (for Duchene Muscular Dystrophy research). Wherever we go we support Charlie’s Fund. We participated in the Scooperbowl in Boston, raising money for the Jimmy’s Fund for cancer research. It was the largest ice cream competition in the world. We gave out over 100,000 scoops of ice cream in three days. We won second best by a landslide, and we were the only small batch there. We beat companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Ciao Bella. People were freaking out on the Dirty Chocolate. We were also recently the official ice cream of the Life is Good Festival, raising money for their Kids Foundation.
Greg: What would you want to tell our camp staff and families?
Dan: Spread the SoCo love! Tell people about SoCo wherever you are. I have a relationship with so many of our customers, I have such a connection to camp… I really think of all the camp people as family. Yes, we are in many stores now, but we still need people to tell their friends, and help our small business grow. The viral word of mouth is so important!
You read it here! Spread the word, pick up a pint! If you have an idea for a camp event during the year or during the summer with SoCo email Dan at Danny@sococreamery.com.
Where can I Find SoCo in my hometown?
The Frozen Gnome
J.P. Gifford Market & Catering Company
Hingham Fruit Center
Harvard General Store
John Dewar & Co
The Scoop – 51 Church St, Lenox MA!www.scooplenox.com
Elm Street Market
Wild Oats Market
Sweets and Beans
West Side market
Kosher Market Place
Wild by Nature
Old Chatam Country Store