Milk & Honey: Indulge in Ice Cream, the Natural Way
“I didn’t choose ice cream.
It chose me,” humbly states Joe Welsh, owner and mastermind behind a very special ice cream shop located on Front Street in Traverse City, directly across from Horizon Books. But don’t let his humility hide the self-awareness and power in his gaze. He might not have grown up with a dream of owning an ice cream shop but, now that he’s put his mind to it, focused passion is definitely part of the picture, as are skill, strong values and joy.
During a cold and blustery afternoon with a winter weather warning in effect I spent an hour in the unlikeliest of places: an ice cream shop. However, as I walked into the back kitchen, unexpected and wonderful scents of savory slow-cooking greeted me and set my mouth watering. So, duly noted: This is not only an ice cream shop, but also offers a few select and very nourishing lunch options such as organic bone-broth soups and deli sandwiches.
With a background in kitchens and restaurants, experience both front and back of the house and a failed business effort that shook his self-esteem, this young man from the U.P. found himself at wit’s end, looking to simply get a job and care for his family. He ended up at what was then known as Cold Stone Creamery, working for minimum wage. He put his skills and work ethic at their service, and was soon managing the place. But as happens in life, various problems cropped up—the owners divorced, the franchise license was soon to run out—and Joe found himself in the position of being able to purchase the equipment, stock and access to the location at a sharp discount. So he did.
And here the story takes a turn. In charge of the place, responsible for what he would serve and out from under the franchise requirements, he took a good look at the Big Ag dairy industry and the quality—or lack thereof—of the ingredients that he had heretofore been using. And he jettisoned them all.
Joe has leapt into a leading spot in the movement away from the industrial food complex that has become much of what Americans consume and which, in the opinion he shares with many experts, is at the root of an epidemic of poor health and body condition overwhelming our country. With ice cream as the primary product he champions, he is adamantly working with the best ingredients obtainable: mostly organic, local when possible.
When you walk into Milk & Honey you are thus presented with ice creams made from Northern Michigan’s own Shetler’s pastured milk, organic cane sugar, quality Belgian chocolate, local organic blueberries, whole-bean vanilla, organic whole eggs and much much more.
Into these you can mix in your choice of extra yummies—and yes, if you choose Oreos or Heath Toffee Bar, they won’t be organic. But if you want hot fudge sauce or caramel, they’re both made on site from scratch, as are the sugar cones.
I was particularly struck by the inventive flavors and the attention to providing truly delicious options for vegans—three made with nut milks and one with soy milk, just in case someone allergic both to dairy and nuts would like to indulge. Yes, you read that right: truly delicious and perfectly textured options for vegans. How he obtains the texture is his trade secret. And were he to go national on these flavors, niche market though it is, I can’t help but believe his products would sell far and wide. I would happily choose to eat his Vegan Matcha green tea and Mumbai Spice any day.
The latter has a special story: Joe spent time in an Ayurvedic ashram in Mumbai, India. The spice blend he has concocted for his Mumbai spice is one of the pearls of wisdom he brought back with him. Last summer, an Indian woman came into his shop, declared that she was from Mumbai and asked to sample the vegan (nut milk) ice cream. After declaring that he’d done a superb job of capturing the flavors of her homeland, she advised that he pull back just a bit on the turmeric. So he has.
As a lover of both lavender and honey I had to taste his Honey Lavender, made with local multi-flower honey and blossoms from the Leelanau Lavender Breezes farm in Northport. I couldn’t resist suggesting that he try a version with Lavender Honey, particularly as we now have a local supply on Old Mission at the Ona Mission Honey Farm.
Joe urged me to sample the seasonal Eggnog Gelato, richly spiced with nutmeg, a personal favorite for him in the holiday season during the cold months. I then—chocoholic that I am—tasted his trio of chocolates: vegan, classic and dark. The flavors were heightened with vanilla notes and rich, true cocoa. Yum!
Joe shared with me that success did not come right away. The first year he opened his own shop he made a couple mistakes—in particular with his branding and shop name. The first incarnation of his new business was “Cherry Cone.” And it just didn’t work. He wasn’t certain he’d earn enough with the summer traffic to survive the winter. But one of Joe’s strengths seems to be an ability to rebound, rethink and go forward, holding to his values and work ethic. He tells me of a local businessman who came in and told him he had done a miserable branding job and he should really change the name of his shop and business. After a summer of reflection, he came upon Milk & Honey, signaling a place of promise, abundance, health and respect for the land and the gifts it offers.
As I depart back into the blizzard, let me just say: If you are one of those who finds joy and deep satisfaction in ice cream, and you care about the quality and sourcing of ingredients as well as flavor and skillful fabrication, allow yourself to be tempted, and come sample Joe’s delicious creams, cakes and more. And I highly recommend checking out his lunch specials. They’re perfect nourishment be the day freezing cold, or mild.
IF YOU GO:
Milk and Honey
240 E Front St., Traverse City
231-944-1036 • MilkAndHoneyTC.com