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  • Tara Crutchfield

Lakeland Ice Cream Company

If there’s anything that transcends age and occasion, it’s ice cream. Nine to 99, birthdays to ‘just because’ there’s nothing like premium hand-dipped ice cream dripping down a homemade waffle cone on a sunny day. Owners of the former Good Buddies BBQ, Joel and Melissa Vann, implemented a magical combination – barbecue and ice cream. Melissa formerly worked in marketing, and Joel is a BBQ competition pitmaster. “He’s a BBQ competition cook, and we both really love ice cream, so we married the two,” Melissa Vann said. Now, the couple owns multiple locations serving BBQ or ice cream, and some with both.


BBQ BEGINNINGS


Lakeland BBQ  is beloved, smoked over oak and hickory for hours and hours with all the typical southern fixin’s like pulled pork, pulled chicken, chicken quarters, ribs, brisket, banana pudding, and the like. A best-seller at their BBQ restaurants is the Couch Potato, a baked potato covered with BBQ chicken or pork topped with bacon, shredded cheese, butter, BBQ sauce, and chives. Another popular side dish is the BBQ pit beans with six different types of beans, and we can’t forget the collard greens. “Everybody loves our collards – we have a secret ingredient in the collards, and we are sworn to secrecy,” Melissa said, who described their fare as “very southern, very traditional.” She added, “We make everything from scratch and smoke everything every day.”


The pair started catering under the Lakeland BBQ Company name in 2015, opening their first location, Polk City BBQ, the same year. They opened a BBQ joint downtown, where Pressed Books and Coffee is today, and eventually moved to Combee Road, serving their southern favorites and ice cream.


In 2020, they opened Lakeland Ice Cream Company and Avon Park BBQ, which now exclusively serves ice cream. The busy couple also owns Mulberry Ice Cream, Dade City BBQ (and ice cream), and, last month, opened Frostproof BBQ.


Each location is different – some just BBQ, some just ice cream, and some with both! We visited their flagship ice cream shop on Duff Road to get the scoop. “This was our first addition of ice cream,” Melissa said of the location.  



“He was the BBQ guy, and I was the dessert person,” she said. The Vanns always traveled to try new ice cream, even outside the county and decided to open a shop of their own. They signed the Lakeland Ice Cream Company space lease three months before the pandemic, put their best scoop forward, and persevered. 


After trying many ice cream brands (for research), Melissa said, “We went with a more premium, higher butter fat ice cream that gives you that rich creaminess.” Their manufacturer, Ice Cream Club, started as a small 600-square-foot dipping store in Manalapan, Florida. Now manufacturing in Boynton Beach, Ice Cream Club produces two million gallons of ice cream annually. “We like this brand the best,” she said. Lakeland Ice Cream Company is the only vendor in Polk County to carry Ice Cream Club.


THE GOOD STUFF


Sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, malts – oh my! Lakeland Ice Cream Company is a cute shop carrying premium hand-dipped ice cream. They’re also famous for the cotton candy burrito. A huge base of fluffy cotton candy made fresh (the air is filled with a sugary aroma as they twirl it), two scoops of the ice cream of your choice, and two toppings. Talk about a sugar rush. “We have kids come in and make the craziest combinations,” Melissa said, smiling.


The Duff Road ice cream shop offers over 60 flavors of ice cream, including sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free options. Fan favorites fill the freezers like Strawberry, Coffee, Rum Raisin, and Cherries’ n Cream. Their specialty flavors steal the show, like Red Velvet Cake, Carrot Cake, Elephant Ears (vanilla ice cream swirled with peanut butter and chocolate chips), and Garbage Can (with seven name-brand candy bars mixed in).



Smurf is a sought-after flavor – a blue raspberry ice cream with mini marshmallows folded throughout. It’s a dupe for the popular Midwest flavor, Blue Moon, first made in Milwaukee in the 1950s. “We get calls once a week asking if we have Blue Moon, and this is kind of the same thing. But the Blue Moon had a marshmallow ribbon, this has miniature marshmallows. Everyone loves that one.” 


They also get calls for Bubblegum, a snappy pink ice cream with colorful bubblegum throughout. It’s a throwback to a mid-century flavor from Dipper Dan in Lakeland, according to Melissa.


The owner’s go-to scoop is Special Praline, with praline pecans and caramel swirled in vanilla ice cream.


The waffle cones may take the cake (or cotton candy burrito, rather). Lakeland Ice Cream Company offers delicious homemade waffle and bubble cones (freshly made bubble waffles). Of the latter, Melissa said, “We cool them off just a minute, and then we [dip] your ice cream with all your toppings.”


As you enter the shop, after taking in the wall of scoops and flavor after flavor of the good stuff, your eye is drawn to a row of colorful cones. The artisan cones are handmade in batches in Brooklyn, New York, and shipped in monthly. They are colored beautifully with tantalizing flavors like red velvet, salted blue corn, lavender, matcha, pink vanilla, birthday cake, cookies and cream, and seasonal offerings like pumpkin and peppermint.


The list of goodies to ‘top it off’ is almost as massive as their ice cream selection, with options like hot fudge, hot caramel, peanut butter, pineapple topping, rainbow sprinkles, gummy bears, cookie dough, Oreo crumbles, and much more.


Don’t forget to pick up your Ice Cream Passport! Patrons can get stamps for trying the listed ice cream flavors from any of their locations. After filling up their passport, customers can redeem it by December 31 for a $50 gift card for ice cream or BBQ. 


MAKING MEMORIES 


Ice cream is the best way to celebrate a special occasion or create a sweet moment. Lakeland Ice Cream Company hosted a 99th birthday party for a veteran recently, and Melissa said, “We have elderly couples that come every week and have an ice cream date, and it’s so sweet.”


The Duff Road ice cream shop prides itself on a vast selection of premium ice cream and equally exceptional customer service. “We hope to give [guests] a good experience and make memories,” Melissa said. “We want everybody to make memories with their family. We’re glad to be a part of that.”


Photography by Amy Sexson

 

Lakeland Ice Cream Company
2973 Duff Rd, Lakeland
(863) 337-5652
FB: Lakeland Ice Cream Company

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