What says summer like an ice cream cone? Meet the friendly face behind this hometown shop in downtown Crystal Lake, and discover what keeps folks coming in the doors all year long.
A friendly staff greets you as you walk into KaleidoScoops, a locally owned ice cream shop in downtown Crystal Lake. The store is dripping with nostalgia; hand-dipped ice cream, old-fashioned candy and cute stuffed animals are all a welcome sight.
Back in 2001, owner Michelle Howell knew this was what Crystal Lake needed.
“I was born and raised here, and after a chain closed, there was never any ice cream,” Howell says. “So, between me, my sister and my Dad, we decided to open up our own store. I’m the sole owner today, but it has been a family project the entire time.”
When several Baskin Robbins locations closed in 1999, a small group of newly disenfranchised owners banded together and formed a new business – KaleidoScoops. Today, the co-op has 17 locations across the country. Howell was the first new entrepreneur to join the mix.
“With a co-op, you’re not provided with inventory and equipment, such as freezers,” she explains. “Unlike a franchise, you have to find all of that stuff on your own. But, unlike a franchise, I can do whatever I want, as long as I buy our ice cream. If I wanted to sell apple pies, I could. All the nostalgic candy, all the stuffed animals – nobody else in our system has what I have. It’s more freedom.”
This year, Howell’s shop is celebrating 16 years in business and more than one million scoops of ice cream served.
Unlike ice cream from a grocery store, which typically has a lower butterfat content, KaleidoScoops’ recipes have a higher percent of butterfat content. The resulting product is much smoother, Howell says.
“It’s a small range, but it makes a huge difference,” Howell says. “That extra butterfat is what makes our ice cream premium.”
In addition to the higher butterfat content, KaleidoScoops prides itself on serving unique flavors of ice cream. Though it was supposed to be a temporary flavor, a crowd favorite is the Illinois Pothole, with thick “black tar” fudge, chocolate ice cream and chunks of “chocolate asphalt.”
Another hit is Blue Moon, which surprises Howell.
“When we first brought it in, people were so excited,” she says. “I’d hear customers say, ‘We can’t get this in Illinois; we can only find it at our summer home.’ We’ve just been going through it this summer.”
Of the 32 flavors available at KaleidoScoops, Superman is the No. 1 kid’s flavor. Instead of using colored vanilla ice cream, KaleidoScoops’ version is lemon, strawberry and blue raspberry flavors swirled together.
Beyond simple cones, KaleidoScoops offers ice cream cakes, ice cream pies, banana splits, turtle sundaes, smoothies, shakes, malts, old-fashioned ice cream sodas – you name it. The variety keeps the store open year-round.
“Repeat customers for cake orders – I’m pretty proud of that,” Howell says. “There are some people who I’ve been doing their kids’ birthday cakes for 16 years. It’s a good feeling.”
At the end of the day, Howell hopes people leave her shop feeling better than when they entered.
“Being a traditional ice cream store, I want people to leave here feeling happy,” she says. “Not just because of the really great ice cream, but also because my employees and I made you feel good. When we accomplish that, we know we’re doing something good for the community.”