LAKEVIEW — Bobtail Ice Cream may feel like an old-school ice cream parlor, but the local ice cream shop actually started 10 years ago as a business school competition idea.
And that homey, nostalgic feel is exactly what founders Jeff Wilcoxon and Chris Hill were going for when they pitched Bobtail at a University of Chicago business school challenge. The flavors are based on Wilcoxon's grandfather's recipes, born at Johnson's Ice Cream in 1950 in Columbus, Ohio.
"My whole life, I've been told that my family makes the best ice cream," Wilcoxon said. "I believed that. Chris and I saw an opportunity to replicate those flavors."
Now, the Lakeview ice cream shop, 2951 N. Broadway, is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and despite hundreds of flavors tested, the core of the shop has stayed the same — "making the best ice cream available in Chicago," Wilcoxon said.
"It's really paid off," he said.
Bobtail is celebrating this spring by offering a different signature flavor each week, some of which are usually only offered for a couple of weeks a year. Customers who buy a scoop of the week's signature flavor can get a second scoop for free as part of the celebration.
By June 16, the shop will be holding its annual ice cream flavor contest, where fans can dream up their own flavors.
The shop's core flavors are classics inspired by Wilcoxon's grandfather, but the local shop prides itself on making its own unique combinations, often inspired by pop culture references or requested by local restaurants.
Last Halloween, the signature flavor was a Miley Cyrus-inspired flavor called "Wrecking Ball," said store manager Ryan Ouellette. Currently, they have a vanilla cherry flavor with chunks of brownies called "Vanilla Morghulis," inspired by HBO show "Game of Thrones."
And Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" inspired one of the first signature flavors. Contestants had had an ice cream contest, and a doughnut ice cream won. Wilcoxon and employees then went to the local grocery store, picked up boxes of glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts and threw it in their cinnamon ice cream.
"People just went crazy over it," Wilcoxon said. "We even put a sign in front that said 'Thanks Donald for the ice cream idea.' That’s a lot of the fun that we have."
The flagship Lakeview location stays open even in the dead of winter. In the fall, it celebrates with pumpkin flavors, and near Christmas, peppermint ice cream pops up.
As the shop's grown, many local restaurants and shops also sell Bobtail, helping keep the churns running when temperatures fall. Last year, the shop had to double its freezer capacity to keep up with the number of restaurants that wanted a special Bobtail-created ice cream flavor.
That success helped the business school grads step away from the shop. Five years ago, Wilcoxon and Hill felt they could leave Bobtail's day-to-day workings to manager Chris Liebelt.
The co-founders now do other things, ranging from consulting and private equity to working for large corporations. But both still work on Bobtail on a regular basis.
"It was founded from my family’s history," Wilcoxon said. "It’s important to me that we maintain the integrity of the flavors and the quality of the ice cream."