Last summer, people were talking about what sounded like a chilly competition in downtown Dexter. The Dexter Creamery had just opened, dishing up soft-serve yogurt right across Main St. from the venerable Dairy Queen. Meanwhile, loyal customers at Dexter Bakery down the street noted the disappearance of its hard ice cream freezer. It sounded like Dexter might have its own Cold War.
“But those rumors are just not true,” says Karen Dudek, owner of the century-old Dexter Bakery which, for a year, offered customers an assortment of hard ice creams as well as baked goods.
“Here in Dexter, we don’t welcome drama,” Dudek says. “Downtown businesses get along here.”
“We coexist pretty well with the other businesses in town,” agrees Dairy Queen manager Heather Hoelzer. “When the bakery offered ice cream, we noticed a dip in business, and when the Dexter Creamery opened, we noticed a difference, but things gradually evened out.”
“I’ve been very pleased at our reception in Dexter,” says Dexter Creamery owner Chris Jones.
For a few years, Dairy Queen had been the only game in town: In 2013, after six years on Dexter-Ann Arbor Rd., Stucchi’s Ice Cream and Cafe closed its doors. “In fairness, Stucchi’s location wasn’t the best for an ice cream business,” Dudek points out. Three years later, she decided that the Dexter Bakery would add ice cream to its menu of sweet treats.
“We quickly learned that the ice cream business is very hard work,” she says. “Just cleaning the freezer every day takes a lot of time. And the business demands a different schedule–and a lot of staff.”
During her ice cream venture, she kept the bakery open an extra four hours, which required adding workers–“which is difficult in a thriving economy, when most teenagers are free for only a few months.” And scooping is a far cry from baking and decorating.
When Dudek learned that the Dexter Creamery was opening, “I didn’t want to compete with a new business and with the Dairy Queen down the road.” So, she unplugged the freezer. “Someday I may reconsider, but not any day soon.”
The Dairy Queen has been on Main St. since 1953. Old copies of the Dexter Leader show the shop standing as a silent backdrop for generations of Memorial Day parades, Dexter Days activities, Apple Daze festivities, and summer concerts on the green across the street.
When Mike and Sheila Hoelzer bought it in 1987, they were young parents with their second baby on the way. “When my parents bought the Dairy Queen, they offered hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, and French fries as well as ice cream–but that’s a tall order for a facility as small as ours,” says their daughter Heather. “It made sense for us to drop the grilling service and concentrate on soft-serve ice cream and frozen treats.”
A 2007 Dexter High grad, Hoelzer began working in the family business when she was sixteen. “We usually have about twenty part-time high school and college students each summer,” she says, “and we often see our former employees and our former teachers bringing their families for ice cream.”
The Dexter Creamery is the new kid on the block. Jones and his wife, Janine, moved to Dexter to raise their family. “We love the community and the people here,” he says, “and five years ago we decided to start a family-owned business.” When he began researching various possibilities, he remembered the enjoyment his father had making ice cream at a dairy in Montana. He went with frozen yogurt as a (slightly) healthier alternative.
After falling in love with the 130-year-old building across from the Dexter Bakery, he leased it from Fred Model and began its renovation, “trying to keep as much of its history as we could.”
Unlike the seasonal Dairy Queen, the Dexter Creamery is open year round–last winter, Jones even opened early on school snow days. Customers fill the cups themselves from the frozen yogurt dispensers; select from dozens of fruit, nut, and candy toppings; and weigh their haul at the register. “We cap the price of the largest cup at $8,” Jones says. “We’re a family-friendly business, and we know it can be stressful financially to take three or four kids to eat anywhere.
“Business has been great–overwhelming, really–after just one year,” Jones says. “I’m equally excited about our impact on the community. We give teens a place to hang out–and we love the chance to meet our neighbors.”