A World Famous Ice Cream Parlor Refreshes Main Street

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As summer winds down, we thought that there could be nothing more fitting than sharing this story about how a world famous ice cream parlor found its way to Main Street. Here’s the scoop… 

Every year, each American consumes an average of 23.2 quarts of ice cream, ice milk, sherbet, ices and other commercially produced frozen dairy products.  Over 600 million of those quarts are produced in the northwestern Iowa Main Street community of Le Mars, with a population of 9,826. In fact, there is more ice cream made in Le Mars, Iowa than any other one location on earth, making it the Ice Cream Capital of the World®!

How it All Began

Officially designated as such in 1994 by the Iowa Legislature, Le Mars has been the home to Wells Enterprises Inc., makers of Blue Bunny® brand ice cream since 1913 when Fred H. Wells purchased a horse, a delivery wagon, a few cans and jars, and the good will of the business from a local dairy farmer for $250. The original contract granted Wells the milk distribution route and guaranteed a source of raw milk from a herd of fifteen milk cows.

Around 1925, Fred H. Wells and his sons began manufacturing ice cream. As the popularity of their ice cream grew, they quickly branched out and began distributing their frozen confections in neighboring towns. In 1927 Fred and his brother, Harry C. Wells, began a partnership to distribute ice cream in Sioux City, Iowa, located about 25 miles south of Le Mars. In 1928 Fairmont Ice Cream purchased the ice cream distribution system from the Wells' brothers along with the right to use the Wells' name.

Seven years later, the Wells' brothers decided to again sell ice cream in Sioux City. No longer able to use the name "Wells," the brothers decided to run a "Name That Ice Cream" contest in the Sioux City Journal. A Sioux City man won the $25 cash prize for submitting the winning entry, “Blue Bunny," after noticing how much his son enjoyed the blue bunnies in a department store window at Easter time.

Wells is now the largest privately held, family owned ice cream producer in the U.S., with 2,600 employees and more than $1 billion in annual sales. The company produces more than 150 million gallons of ice cream annually, at 3 state of the art manufacturing facilities (2 in Le Mars). There are more than 500 Blue Bunny ice cream and frozen novelty products distributed throughout the United States, with over 70 flavors of Blue Bunny ice cream.

Blue Bunny Moves to Main Street

To share their history, in 1999 the company opened an 8,500 square foot ice cream parlor, museum and visitors center in a commercial center at the intersection of Highways 3 and 75 in Le Mars. For over a decade, the venue attracted thousands of visitors from around the world, and was a popular stop for national political candidates.  Needing additional space, the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum moved into a 12,000 square foot vintage building in the heart of Le Mars’ business district in 2011.

The building that houses the 1920s-style parlor is itself full of history. The brick structure was built in 1875 by George E. Pew, just six years after the town of Le Mars was incorporated.  His general hardware and agricultural implements company was one of the first businesses in the state of Iowa. The business closed in the 1960s, and the building had been used for storage for many years before it was acquired and extensively renovated by Wells.

The space has undergone a transformation that marries both the integrity of the old building with some of the features from their former location.  The Parlor’s marble ice cream bar, originally salvaged from the historic M&M Bakery & Café in O’Neill, Nebraska, as well as the iconic sundae sculpture are familiar cornerstones to the parlor.  The new location boasts a grand staircase, private room for meetings, events and parties, and a specialty gift shop. Historical photos, packaging displays and exhibits that highlight Wells company history are integrated throughout the Parlor.

Visitors have had little trouble finding the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, despite its move from a busy highway intersection. "The downtown location has proved to be a great move for the Ice Cream Parlor," said Dave Smetter, vice president corporate and integrated marketing communications for Wells Enterprises. Since moving to the downtown location, traffic at the Ice Cream Parlor is up an average of more than 40%! 

“What a wonderful addition the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum is for our downtown Main Street district,” stated Mary Reynolds, Le Mars Chamber of Commerce Main Street Manager. “The addition of this venue enhances the composition of Main Street as well as supports Le Mars’s merchants who have long served as the downtown anchors of our community.” The move to downtown Le Mars has added a great opportunity for the Parlor to be in the heart of the downtown business community, and the rejuvenation of a city landmark has invigorated the community’s business district.

Have a fun, safe (and sweet) holiday weekend!