When Hannah Sager and Alex Miller first met on a date in the Big Apple 10 years ago, their mutual love of lactose made for an instant connection.
“We originally bonded over a shared love of ice cream and our belief that Northern ice cream is better,” says Sager. “Alex being from upstate New York and me from Vermont, we both have very nostalgic and special memories of ice cream.”
Now married and living in Church Hill, the couple has been producing pints of from-scratch ice cream for the last five years. Their dairy dessert experiments began shortly after they moved to Richmond in 2015. Twelve months of testing eventually earned them their own signature recipe with which they now make all of their varieties.
As a lawyer, Sager knew the duo couldn’t sell ice cream out of their house, so Spotty Dog Ice Cream began its life as a free sample service to their bravest neighbors willing to take a chance on ice cream amateurs. “We used to put out flyers telling people to text us for free samples, and surprisingly people trusted strangers dropping flyers in their mailbox,” Miller says.
Just over four years ago the couple received an official business license, moved their operations to a commercial kitchen, and began organizing pop-ups almost every weekend at Union Market, breweries, and any shop that would have them. “We always had the idea that one day we would have our own shop—that was our goal,” says Sager.
The dream of a brick and mortar had to be put on hold when COVID-19 broke out, forcing the duo to shift gears from pop-ups to home pint delivery. As society and the economy have slowly returned to the pre-pandemic normal, Spotty Dog Ice Cream is finally getting its own standalone home at the end of this month.
Half of the new space at 2416 Jefferson Ave. in Church Hill will be a large production kitchen where Sager and Miller can pasteurize their bases, mix up their avant-garde flavors, and package pints for sale. The other half of the shop will feature a counter containing all of their flavors for sale as well as booths and bar ice cream seating.
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“A real deal ice cream parlour”
Pop-ups and pints have proven a great way to grow their business, but the couple couldn’t be more excited about hosting customers in their new shop to enjoy the social side of ice cream—the exact element that brought them together a decade ago.
“This is gonna be a real deal ice cream parlor with people coming in getting cones, specialty sundaes, and seasonal creations,” Miller explains. “We’re looking to go from this faceless underground pint model to a real deal neighborhood spot. It’s a big change, but we want to reconnect to our customers and feel a sense of community with our neighbors. It’s what we’e been envisioning since we got into ice cream.”
Besides being the only ice cream shop in Church Hill, Union Hill, and all of the East End, what the duo hopes will truly set them apart is their focus on New England style ice cream—a high in fat, low in air style that enables Spotty Dog’s flavors to pack a bigger punch on your pallet and to linger in your mouth longer.
“The texture and mouthfeel is denser, creamier, and richer,” Sager says. “It feels like how ice cream back in the day would taste when the process wasn’t as mechanized and things were made more in small batches. We want our ice cream to feel authentic to what you would be served at a parlor in the early 1900s.”
Although the way they churn their product may be old fashioned, the flavors are far from it. Miso peanut butter and jelly, tahini brownie sundae, and black pepper honeycomb are just a few of their more fashionable flavors. For folks feeling a tad less adventurous, Spotty Dog also serves up the classics with dreamsicle, salty chocolate chip cookie, and a key lime pie variety.
Crumbles, crackers, and crusts add a textural element to keep customers’ mouths entertained no matter which Spotty Dog flavor they are savoring. “We try to strike a balance by elevating lowbrow flavors to something a bit fancy,” explains Miller. “Nothing that we make is overly sweet. Oftentimes I find our ice cream is more for grownups than for kids.”
Regardless of which flavors Sager and Miller whip up for the new shop, all varieties must be approved of by their muse and the parlor’s namesake—their pet aussie, Mr. Brown & White. Before the couple moved to Richmond, they used to live above an ice cream shop.
“Our dog used to lick their cups clean so much that he became addicted to anything in a cup or with a spoon!”
Spotty Dog Ice Cream will be located at 2416 Jefferson Ave. in Church Hill when it opens later this month.