I’ve lived in Mississauga since August of 1994 and every summer, I’ve been told by a multitude of people from various ages and backgrounds that Dairy Cream has the city’s best ice cream hands down. I’ve been a handful of times…probably closer to a dozen-ish and each time I went, the lines were spilling upon the sidewalk, cars would be constantly shimmying in and out of parking spaces and the collective chatter and laughter of friends and families would blend together and fill the parking lot with a pleasant, electric buzz.
Yes, Dairy Cream’s ice cream, sundaes and treats tasted quite good but I wasn’t able to find an answer as to why locals and out-of-towners flocked here every summer ritualistically. I asked people in line and I got the “well…it’s Dairy Cream…it’s that good!” Or the “we just do…it’s tradition.”
In my younger years, I took it at face value and thought “well, they’re still in business; the lineups are constantly there all summer long, there must be some magic formula” and left it at that.
Recently, learning that Dairy Cream has turned 60 (as of April 1st, 2018) I decided that I needed answers as to what the big deal is about Mississauga’s long-standing, iconic ice cream joint.
I’d arranged a meeting with Sarah ICQ (Ice Cream Queen…ok, maybe it’s not her real name but it may as well be) at the store on a warm, Tuesday night in June at 6-ish, just before the after dinner rush swooped in for dessert.
Sarah’s been there for 16 years and been running the place more or less for nearly all of those years.
So...what is it about Dairy Cream that makes it so popular, recognized and a staple of our community?
The consistent high quality of menu items
They’ve had the same ice cream supplier for all 60 years who uses premium ingredients (no milk power, no skim milk here…pure cream and milk) resulting in that fresh, authentic taste that’s helped ice their reputation as one of (if not the best) ice cream spots in the city and surrounding areas.
In any line of business, consistency is key and Dairy Cream believes in that.
All of their ice cream cakes are made and decorated on site, along with all “take-home” products, which is impressive. Their brownies and cheesecake are also made in-house from scratch.
The hard work of the team
The physical footprint of the store is around 800 square feet…nope, not a typo; eight hundred square feet. That small space houses all the ice cream, machines, freezers plus 17 team members, many of which are local high school students (gotta love that they hire local.)
Scoop ice cream flavours number between 30 to 38, depending on the year. They’ll constantly introduce new flavours and evaluate if it’s popular enough to bring back the following year. With limited freezer space, to bring in a new flavour means they’ve got to remove another flavour. Sarah describes her job as a constant juggling act, and she’s absolutely right.
The most popular flavour of ice cream is chocolate chip cookie dough with pistachio running a close second. (FYI, Sarah’s fond of pistachio so if you ever want to buy her an ice cream…)
The best addition to the flavour roster? Raspberry Sherbert as of 2017 (yeah, I was kinda caught off guard with that as well…but hey, if it works, it works.)
With the lineup hitting the sidewalk, don’t be intimidated as it’s only a 10-12 minute wait. Sarah and her team are very efficient and friendly, which are the cornerstones of customer service.
On a good week with the weather cooperating, they run through about 50 tubs (each tub holds 11 litres)
With about 20 scoops to a litre, that’s a whopping 11,000 scoops of ice cream!
As a great leader, Sarah does everything from taking orders, to inventory to hiring and everything in between and it illustrates to her team that she's not above them.
Sarah’s quite impressed with customers’ ability to sort themselves out line-wise. There’s very little fighting/arguing but for 99% of it, Dairy Creamers (my name for them) are respectful of each other and know that it’s a relatively short wait to get their order placed.
The Funnel Cakes
About a decade ago, they upped their game by introducing the ever-popular “Funnel Cake” to their menu and they’re made fresh to order so you literally see the steam escaping it and melting the ice cream as it’s served. Prior to that, you’d have to trek up the 400 to the “national land of wonder” to get you Funnel Cake fix.
On a good week, they’ll serve up a couple hundred of this fantastic fried goodness.
Sarah says “the two most extravagant Funnel Cakes I’ve served was a full banana split on top of a funnel cake and one with three scoops of ice cream, cheesecake and brownies.”
I nervously laugh with a “c’mon…really?” expression as she stops speaking.
Sarah stares back with dead-set seriousness.
“We enable our customers to get pretty much whatever they like flavour and combination wise because we have so many options available” she says.
They actually use real strawberries as a topping, along with many other fresh ingredients.
It’s an experience coming to Dairy Cream…whether you go once a year or once a week. It’s not one thing…it’s a lot of little things that blend into the overall allure of Mississauga’s hotspot destination.
And that you can customize nearly anything on the menu that’s available.
I asked Sarah if there’s anything new on the menu and she said if they had more square footage, they’d consider it but with the current layout, there’s no room for anything new. And really, their current lineup of offerings is keeping their plethora of customers satisfied and smiling.
The business model and giving back to the community
When you’re selling something, it comes down to price, quality and service. If you’re able to nail down two, there’s a high probability of being successful. Dairy Cream has found a balance between all three.
I picked up a peanut butter sundae and a peanut butter dipped chocolate cone for $8.25….meaning you could probably feed a family of five for a cool, green Queen E.
Fun fact; anything that’s leftover that still has some shelf life left goes to a shelter instead of the garbage.
They also sponsor local sports teams as well…so they’re truly entwined in the community.
Dogs get free vanilla “puppy cones” on hot days…something for everybody.
Closed in the latter half of December and all of January. In December, it turns into a Christmas Tree lot and they give out free cones to the kiddies…very kind of them.
Impressively, Dairy Cream has been owned by the same family for the past 40 years.
The internet folks have spoken and here’s what they’ve got to say about the nostalgia enveloped in Dairy Cream:
Though the ice cream is decent, I think the big draw is the nostalgia you feel when you visit (even the first time you go). It hasn't modernized, and feels like the small town ice cream shops we'd frequent as kids 30 years ago. It even looks like it could have been a drive-up at some point in its history. Simple. No frills. Timeless. – Scott. W
Been going since I was 1 year old. When I was older I recall my dad would jingle the coins in his pockets. That sound told us (5 kids) we were going to Diary Cream. Even when we moved away for awhile we still visited Diary Cream. I moved to Alberta in the early 80's but when I came home for a visit, I hit Diary Cream. When I moved back home to Ontario, one of the first places I took my than 1 year old daughter was Diary Cream. I still enjoy going with my now 32 year old daughter and two grandsons. Nostalgia yes, great memories yes, lost my dad when I was 9). The Ice Cream is the best, still always order a vanilla dipped cone. – Karen. S
20 years ago I had my first baseball hat ice cream cup and I loved the ice cream, I soon was back and tried the funnel cake which tasted phenomenal. I will always love Dairy Cream and I will make sure my kids love it to. Thank you for making the best ice cream. – Chris. R
I sent my husband Mike there all the time when I was pregnant! Now we take the kids. We embrace what few traditions we have! – Karen R.
I go to Dairy Cream at least once a week during the summer months. It reminds me of simpler times when the most difficult decision was choosing an ice cream flavour! The staff are friendly, the desserts are AMAZING! and it's definitely the best value! I also want to support family owned businesses, and Dairy Cream is one of my favourites! – Alicia. R
“People come here and meet other people and engage with each other in line. We’ve had people meet in line here and end up getting married…they actually had some of their wedding pictures taken here! Everything here is communal…people come, sit, chat, get caught up, get acquainted with strangers and make new friends. I’ve seen customers when they were young and they bring their kids as they age…so I’ve seen quite a few customers grow up with Dairy Cream and their kids are also part of the tradition.
In fact, I came here as a kid and look at me now!
Our open parking lot leads people to come together…we’re lucky to have a great setup like this, especially in our line of work. Also, with the lake being so close, customers pick up their ice cream and walk across the street and stroll by the lake if they choose” says Sarah.
They’re still in the original building from 1958, with a few basic repairs done along the way (the roof, the floor, etc.) With the constant “why don’t you expand the building?” question being asked, Dairy Cream values their parking lot space too much to sacrifice it by adding square footage to the building.
“People love the nostalgia of Dairy Cream…they grew up with it and it’s a great memory for them. Our menu boards are still plastic, we still have the same signs, we have the same counters…we don’t want to mess with a good thing” says Sarah.
There’s no “one thing” about Dairy Cream that makes it a big deal.
Rather, it’s the culmination of all the small things that have created a tourist destination in Mississauga, operated by local folks that consistently serve up nearly whatever you want via fresh ingredients with a smile, in a 60 year old building that fosters old memories and helps create new ones.