From vintage vanilla to Juneberry surprise, this ND ice cream company is gaining nationwide fame
BOTTINEAU, N.D. — When Jeff Beyer purchased Pride Dairy in Bottineau, N.D., he had no idea that one day be asked to duplicate Thomas Jefferson's vanilla ice cream recipe.
"It was a surreal experience for sure" said Beyer, who was approached by Mount Rushmore in 2013 and asked to make a signature ice cream for them.
The ice cream flavor was to be a nod to Thomas Jefferson, who is credited with bringing the first written recipe for ice cream to the United States, and was to be named 'Thomas Jefferson Vintage Vanilla Ice Cream.'
To help make the signature flavor, Pride Dairy was sent Thomas Jefferson's ice cream recipe from 1780.
Replicating the recipe was pretty easy, Beyer said, as the recipe and ingredients was 'real close' to how Pride Dairy already made their ice cream. But there was one challenge: Finding out where Jefferson would have gotten his vanilla from.
After some research, Beyer said Jefferson more than likely used vanilla beans from Madagascar. So Pride Dairy worked with a supplier to get their vanilla beans from Madagascar, too.
Initially, Pride Dairy was told to expect to produce 300 tubs — each containing 2½ gallons — of ice cream per year. In 2016 Pride Dairy supplied about 3,000 of the vintage vanilla tubs to Mount Rushmore — making it the top ice cream flavor served at the park.
"We were very, very fortunate," said Shelly Spang, general manager of Pride Dairy.
"That really put us on the map. We have always just been here (Bottineau) since 1930." said Beyer. "We have always just been in our little area."
Dean Foods, one of the nation's largest dairy companies, distributes Pride Dairy products, primarily ice cream, to roughly 50 stores and restaurants in North Dakota, South Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, but the Thomas Jefferson Vintage Vanilla Ice Cream changed the game.
"A gentleman from West Virginia called, he had tasted the Thomas Jefferson ice cream at Mount Rushmore," Spang said. "He was a retired professor and was having a special meeting and he didn't care what is cost but he wanted a 5-quart pail of Thomas Jefferson ice cream shipped overnight to him so he could share it with his colleagues.
"It cost over $150 but he didn't care. He wanted to be able to serve it."
The attention and fame shouldn't have come as a surprise to the Pride Dairy staff. In 2010, the company's Juneberry Surprise Ice Cream was named "Best Ice Cream in North Dakota" by USA Today, as well as Pride Dairy's 'Dairy Dipper II' being named one of the top 50 ice cream parlors in the United States by USA Today.
"That was really the first time we were 'famous.' Before that we didn't even realize we mattered," Spang said.
"We had a trucker who was making a delivery to Wal-Mart here in Bottineau and as his truck was being unloaded he walked here to taste the Juneberry ice cream to see if that story was true," Spang said. "He said it was worth the walk."
Beyer credits Spang and Cystal McKay, office manager at Pride Dairy, for increasing the company's exposure by starting a Facebook page.
"We were amazed at how people from all over liked our page and started contacting us," Beyer said'
Facebook became their marketing campaign and people wanted to know the story behind Pride Dairy.
"Southern Living even did an article on us," Beyer said. "Here we are about the furthest north you can get and they want to do a story on us."
So how does Pride Dairy come up with their famous ice cream flavors?
"Oh, it is very scientific." Beyer said. "Someone dreams it, we try it, if it makes it past the employee group taste test, we take it home to family to try and then have the customers try it and give input." Pride Dairy, originally founded in 1930 as a farmer-owned cooperative and stayed that way until Beyer purchased it on Jan. 1, 2012, is North Dakota's only producer of ice cream and butter. The company packages butter and ice cream for both itself and Dean Foods, which supplies the cream that Pride Dairy processes.
In addition to 22 flavors of ice cream, with one seasonal ice cream flavor — Christmas mint, Pride Dairy produces butter, syrups, caramels, and honey. When Pride Dairy started producing and bottling chokecherry and juneberry syrups in 2010, Spang said "The first Christmas season was unbelievable. We were not prepared for the demand."
"We were to the point we just wanted Christmas to be here so the orders would quit coming in," Beyer said.
Pride Dairy also produces gift boxes that are made to order for customers.
"We have started working with companies who want to send gift boxes at Christmas, Spang said. They tell us what they want in them, give us the mailing list and we take care of the rest for them."
It is paying off though in 2016 Pride Dairy estimates they produced and sold around 3,000 gift boxes. Every gift box contains a brochure and order numbers for future orders.
"Word of mouth is our best advertising," Spang said.
Some items cannot be sent in a gift box, though, so McKay suggests stopping at the Dairy Dipper II in Bottineau for a bowl of dirt or a cowpie.
"A bowl of dirt is cookies and cream ice cream with chocolate syrup, crushed oreos and gummy worms sticking out all over. Kids love it," McKay said. "The cowpie is juneberry ice cream covered in dipping chocolate on a stick."
Both Pride Dairy and the Dairy Dipper II ice cream parlor are located at 517 Thompson St. in Bottineau. Store hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are closed on weekends.
"You don't get crabby customers coming for ice cream," Beyer said. "When people come in they are generally happy. Our goal is when they leave here they feel even better."
Check out Pride Dairy on Facebook or at pridedairy.com to see a full list of locations where their products are available for purchase.