The memory of churning

ice cream with family on Summer days

is what inspired the opening of Urban Churn.

In the summer of 2013, I would hear folks in Harrisburg, PA grumble about how there wasn’t a good ice cream shop in the city.  When I heard the grumbles, I remember the hot summer days, as a child, at my Great Grandmother’s cottage churning Grape Nut ice cream made by the classic hand-cranked churns with salt and ice.  After eating our family’s Pit BBQ Chicken, my Great Uncles would bring out the dairy mixture and have the kids churn by manually cranking the handles.   But, oh, the labour was worth it.

I eventually put the two and two together… why not bring my family’s tradition here to Harrisburg. I could revive the traditional way of making ice cream, but make it unique.

Summer 2013 - First Experiments

The Idea

In the summer of 2013, working in Harrisburg PA, I noticed how there was a lack of ice cream shops in the area. Taking my family history and the known demand for frozen desserts, I set out to explore the possibility of opening my own shop. Summer days were spent churning with small salt & ice freezers to figure out recipes.  I churned so much that four motors were burnt through.

First Flavours

Sure, churning classic ice cream flavours like vanilla, chocolate or our family favourite ‘grape-nut’ are great to start with, but I wanted something different.  Some of the first unique flavours I decided to churn was ‘Breakfast’ ( Waffles home-cooked bacon and maple syrup), ‘Bourbon Bacon’ and even partnering with a brewery called ‘Zeroday’ to make Stout Beer ice cream.

Summer 2014 - First Commercial Kitchen

Our First Commercial Kitchen

In a small room behind the Midtown Cinema, we churned in a new production kitchen. This small kitchen had everything we need to get started and prove the concept.  Using small White Mountain Churns with Salt & Ice, we were ready to dish out some of our new flavours.  This year was the year I learned and figured out what worked and didn’t work.

Realizations

After a few months of churning, things became clear.  Urban Churn required better churns, more freezers and different tools to make churning easier.  Flavours were being dished out in the lobby of the cinema and things were on a roll.  Before I knew it, the equipment I had wouldn’t meet demand.

Fall 2014 - Upgraded Churns

Amish Built

After the first summer of selling ice cream, I quickly realized better equipment was needed.   A large ice machine and larger churns that produced higher volume batches were required.  After seeking a small private investment, Urban Churn acquired hand-built Amish churns made in Lancaster PA.  These produced around 6 gallons every 45 minutes.

After some time, we grew the number of churns from 2 to 4 to meet demand.

July 2016 - Opened In Broad Street Market

Opening a stand at Broad Street Market

After a couple of years serving in the lobby of the Midtown Cinema and participating in public events, it was time to take the next step.  In July of 2016 a spot at the Broad Street Market, in Harrisburg PA, had opened up and I took the opportunity.  This would be a great way for additional exposure and get our product out to a larger audience.

This was the best experience I’ve had and was a great way to learn how to start serving the mass.  During our time at the Broad Street Market, we’ve gained friends and were lucky to personally know our ‘regulars’.   Here, we would simply serve scoops, milkshakes, cold brew affogatos and waffle cones.  Nothing too crazy, but it quickly became a staple for many.

After a year of running in the Market, we gained a contract to serve all of Arooga’s Sports Bar and Grill on the East Coast.  This prompted us to take the next step; find a larger production facility.

Spring 2017 - Major Expansion

New Warehouse Facility

Because of rapid expansion by signing a contract to serve all of Arooga’s and other local establishments, a new and larger production facility was needed.  We added new churns and a batch freezer to speed up the time of production. A loading dock allowed ‘reefer’ trucks to back in and be loaded by pallets of ice cream.  A walk-in-freezer was typically found to be filled to the ceiling with hundreds of gallons of ice cream.

Expansion Difficulty

Expanding quickly proved difficult.  When manufacturing and wholesaling to other establishments, a lot of moving pieces to maintain a successful business became difficult to keep in line.  From storage to the cost of goods, even partnering with the right food distributor is important.  Eventually, our main customer selected to partner with a new food distributor who did not send Freezer Trucks to load up the product.   This resulted in the need to drive a truck myself.  Being new to the industry I was quick to learn the ropes.  I now found myself driving a 26 foot Freightliner truck through Philadelphia streets and into New Jersey to deliver pallets of ice cream, weely.

I would churn product day and night to meet demand.  Some days I would have 4 hours of sleep and wake up to load a Freightliner at 6 am and start my 8-hour drive. This weekly routine wore me down.   As a result, we decided it was best to cancel contracts and refocus the business; retail.

April 19 2019 - We Open Our First Shop

A New Path, A New Shop

For a couple of years, I’ve had my eyes on a single building, wishing it would be available to open Urban Churn there.  Well, the stars aligned and at the exact time that we left our warehouse, the building I had my eyes on became available.  In 2019 we opened our first stand-alone brick and mortar ice cream shop.

I did not know what to expect.  The first summer was a true educating experience.  A line reached out the door to the end of the block.  Our walk-in freezer couldn’t handle the heat and constant use.  I ran out of ice cream many times…but folks were happy.  The menu was improved over time and new recipes were served.

January 2021 - Urban Churn Expands, Opens In Mechanicsburg.

An Investor and Major Support

With much joy, Urban Churn is expanding by opening a shop on the Carlisle Pike of Mechanicsburg, PA.  To grow, Urban Churn needed to raise more capital and find support.  An agreement was made between an investor and Urban Churn.  The investors were able to give Urban Churn a major boost through financial contribution and support by experience.

Through their guidance and our motivation to churn and serve, we are able to better paint a bright picture of Urban Churn’s future.  We are excited to see where we go and are excited to be sharing that journey with you.

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