Editor’s Note — This is a story in an ongoing Nebraska Today series that spends an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less) at campus locations to highlight events or services. For more information, or to suggest a topic for the series, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-472-8515.
It’s happy hour at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Dairy Store and the line stretches to the door as customers seek creamy, cool scoops of handcrafted ice cream.
The sale of dairy products at the Dairy Store began in 1917 with all-you-can-drink milk for a nickel — but only for customers who brought their own glass. Nearly 100 years later, the Dairy Store has replaced the milk offer with a lineup of ice cream treats and cheeses developed and produced by UNL faculty, staff and students. And, there’s no need to bring your own cup, dish or cone.
“To this day, the number one question we get from customers is where are the cows,” said Kathy Vokoun, a 26-year employee at the Dairy Store. “When the Dairy Store first opened, the cows were here on East Campus. Today, they’re in Firth at Prairieland Dairy.”
UNL has contracted with the Nebraska dairy since 2009, utilizing its production facility to create the base mix for all Dairy Store ice cream flavors. Russell Parde, interim manager of UNL’s dairy plant, said the ice cream base is made to exacting UNL guidelines, matching the Dairy Store recipe used for decades.
“We order a batch of the base mix and use it to make any flavor we need for the store,” Parde said. “We have a regular lineup of flavors that we supplement with seasonal selections and new recipes. That way, we are able to always offer a wide variety of flavors.”
New recipes recently added include Jazz Berry Mint Chip (which celebrated the 25th season of Jazz in June), Bounds to be Good (a new addition named after Hank Bounds, the University of Nebraska’s new president), and Fluffer Nutterer (a mix of peanut butter ice cream and marshmallow swirl developed from a suggestion by Parde’s wife).
A full list of available flavors is available on the Dairy Store’s Facebook page.
Midway through the July 8 happy hour (which are offered weekdays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.), Alan Hanks, a 1974 UNL graduate, reacquainted himself with an old friend.
“When I was a student, I stopped here pretty much every day,” Hanks said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been here in years. But my boss suggested we go out for ice cream and I said we should go to the Dairy Store because I love their black walnut.”
Back in the early 1970s, the Dairy Store’s black walnut recipe was a vanilla-based ice cream. Today, the recipe features a fudge-flavored base. Despite the change, it was a must-have for Hanks.
“It’s different, but I’d say it’s better or as good as I remember the vanilla being,” Hanks said. “And it still reminds me of the days when I was a student.”
Vokoun said that kind of nostalgia helps draw generations of customers back to the store.
“We hear story after story from customers on how their grandparents or parents brought them here and now they’re bringing their kids in for ice cream,” Vokoun said. “We take pride in knowing we’re important to so many families.”
And, the reputation of the store continues to draw in new customers.
During a family vacation in 2015, Ray and Cecilia Woods of Nashville, Tennessee, found the Dairy Store via a Google search. The Woods family loved it so much, the Dairy Store was a must-stop during their vacation this summer.
“It’s just a great place to go with our kids,” Ray Woods said. “Plus, the ice cream is great, the prices are good, and it’s really easy to find and park nearby.”
Parde said ice cream is made four days a week in the dairy plant connected to the store. Batches can range in size from five to 200 gallons.
Between January and June, Parde said the Dairy Store ordered four 400-gallon batches of the base mix from Prairieland Dairy. Due to season demand, Parde has already ordered four additional 400-gallon batches in the last 30 days.
“From every five gallons of the batch, we produce nine gallons of ice cream,” Parde said. “So, from a 400 gallon batch, we end up with about 720 gallons of ice cream.”
In June, the Dairy Store sold more than 4,000 single dip cones, 1,300 kid cones, 1,300 waffle cones and nearly 1,000 double dip cones. Added together, that is more than 7,600 scoops of ice cream.
At the close of happy hour on July 8, Dairy Store employee and UNL student Katherine Mundorf single-handedly served more than 80 scoops of ice cream, made four specialty sundaes and mixed four shakes/malts.
“There’s always a steady stream of customers, but this is about as busy as it gets,” Mundorf said. “It’s exactly what you would expect during summer at an ice cream shop.”