Hugh Balthrop says he just started making ice cream in his kitchen for his kids.
Then for the rest of his family.
Then his friends.
Today, the Clarksdale entrepreneur is having pints of his acclaimed Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream delivered all over the state: From upscale restaurants in Greater Memphis to coffee shops and caterers throughout the Mississippi Delta.
“For me it was all about using local ingredients,” Balthrop says. “Some of these other places put stuff in this ice cream that you can’t pronounce and I didn’t want to feed that to my kids.”
The principal ingredient for Sweet Magnolia ice cream comes from cream harvested from grass-grazed cows on a farm in Oxford.
“What really makes it stands out is the family cows,” he says. “They know all the names. They have tags on them.”
Balthrop uses an Italian-made Bravo ice cream machine to mix pint after pint. The ice cream is then cooled and frozen alternately before being stored in the company’s 2,400 square-foot “ice cream factory.”
“We use the gelato technique with a Southern flair,” Balthrop says.
The ingredients for his different flavors are also natural like wild honey, local blackberries and blueberries,
Balthrop is originally from Washington D.C., where he says he did everything from working in the hospital industry to owning an art gallery. His wife grew up in Chicago and spent many summers in Mississippi. They married in 1999 and moved to Clarksdale a year later where she is a practicing obstetrician.
After studying the science and manufacturing of ice cream online, Balthrop enrolled in a weekend short course at the University of Pennsylvania and learned all about desserts, pastries and gelato, the Italian form of ice cream.
Balthrop jokes that he wears the chef hat, manager hat, delivery hat and accounting hat.
“I never thought the business would take off like it is,” he says. “The demand has really been incredible.”
The business really picked up last winter, the season is usually pretty mild in Mississippi and locals were happy to try a bowl of his eggnog and candy cane flavors.
Balthrop says he is grateful for the Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce’s small business incubator program, which allowed him to rent space at a reduced rate for his equipment and storage.
“We don’t have any trucks yet,” he says. “We have cold packs and coolers and are hauling them. We have these ice blocks that we transport the ice cream in. We’re trying to figure out the next step.”
That next step will probably include moving his ice cream from wholesale to retail. Balthrop recently partnered with the Delta Bistro and Mississippi Gift Company in Greenwood as well as the Amerigo Italian Restaurant family in Memphis. He’s also interested in the emerging food truck industry and possibly expanding to eventually include a dining area at the Clarksdale location.
Sweet Magnolia serves traditional American and Italian flavors as well as seasonal combinations.
The bestseller is the Gravel Road flavor while the lemon drop, muscadine sorbet and watermelon lemon sorbet are very popular in the summertime. Other summer flavors include orange cream gelato, sweet tea sorbet and lemon frozen yogurt with blueberry sauce.
Sweet Magnolia pints are boxed up for the retail spaces while Balthrop and his team ship one to three gallon buckets to the restaurants and coffee shops.
In addition to finding local places to introduce his ice cream, Balthrop is also working on the logistics for customers who want to order the ice cream online.
Garden & Gun magazine recently contacted Sweet Magnolia about doing a story on the ice cream. Balthrop says it cost him $150 to ship them overnight samples. The company was featured in the magazine’s July issue along with four other “Ice Cream Makers with Southern Soul.” The company was also named a semi-finalist on the Garden & Gun “Made in the South” list.
“I’m passionate about the ice cream,” Balthrop says. “I’ve gotten a great response from the community. They really love it.”
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Address: 1540 DeSoto Avenue #4, Clarksdale
Orders: To find it at a place near you please call (662) 313-6551