Katie’s Ice Cream is at 106 Church Street in Dickson.
DICKSON – There’s respite from the heat of late summer near the corner of Church Street and E. College Street in downtown Dickson.
It’s Katie’s Ice Cream, where the motto is “Enjoy life . . . eat more ice cream.” There are 32 tasty temptations inside the 49-seat emporium that has been scooping up 14-percent butterfat treats since 2019.
Orange chocolate chip is the signature flavor that owner Tom Costa loves to promote, but the freezer features everything from traditional chocolate, vanilla and mint chocolate chip to taste-tempters such as lavender honey, Granny Lay’s Blueberry Pie, peanut butter and Nutella, and Chocolate Symphony (a concoction of milk chocolate, pieces of toffee, chocolate chips and salted almonds).
There’s even a caramel cashew flavor with reduced sugar content, and just so no one gets left out in the heat, Katie’s also has four to eight non-dairy selections. One is made with coconut milk.
Bonus attractions include made-in-the-store waffle cones, bottled root beers to use in ice cream floats and a kiddies’ playground just outside the back door. Costa’s wife, Lisa, makes the shop’s chocolate fudge.
Costa’s path to being an ice cream mogul wasn’t so much circuitous as it was a straight line between where he grew up near Fresno, Calif., and Dickson. He came close to opening an ice cream store in California, but a solid prospect melted away, and Costa decided to move closer to family on this side of the country.
He found a storage building in downtown Dickson and somehow envisioned an airy, inviting and colorful ice cream shop in that space. He said the building dates to 1932 and probably was a railroad warehouse originally. It’s more fun as an ice cream shop.
Next came Scoop School in St. Louis. Yes, there really is an institution of professional learning called Scoop School, whose website says its originator has helped open more than 900 ice cream and frozen dessert businesses in the U.S.
Costa somewhat downplays the skills and techniques of making top-quality ice cream.
“It’s not hard. If you make bad ice cream, shame on you,” he said.
Pressed a bit, however, Costa will talk about the hours of experimentation to make new flavors, his Emery Thompson ice cream machine that can deliver a 12-gallon batch in 10 minutes, the thousand-gallon hardening freezer that holds steady at minus 20 degrees and the smaller tempering freezer that brings ice cream up to serving temperature.
“Ice cream is happy at about minus 10 degrees, and it’s served from the display case at about 3 degrees,” he said, pointing to the array of flavors so colorful that they resemble an artist’s palette.
Costa knows that few people really care about the science behind ice cream. They just want a treat, and that’s where customer service comes into play.
“We’re in the entertainment business. Happiness is our product. You can buy ice cream anywhere,” Costa said, noting that the atmosphere in the shop and the friendliness of the employees elevate the experience at Katie’s.
Most of the front-line employees are teens in their first paying job. Costa said the shop has about 18 employees at peak season, making Katie’s a significant employer of young people in a small town.
Costa, himself the epitome of an outgoing host, leads by example, and he posts a sign that all employees see daily: “Be the reason somebody smiles today.”
On one recent afternoon, Costa spoke to practically everyone who entered the store.
“Thank you for coming in,” he said to one middle-aged customer. “If I didn’t have customers like you, this would just be a dumb hobby.”
Enjoy Tom Adkinson’s Tennessee Traveler destination articles the second and fourth Friday every month. Adkinson, author of “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die,” is a Marco Polo member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers.
Katie’s Ice Cream, named for the owner’s middle school daughter, is at 106 Church Street in Dickson, approximately 40 miles west of downtown Nashville via I-40 and TN 46. Shop information is at KatiesIceCream.com. Area visitor information is at DicksonCountyChamber.com and TNvacation.com
Will Hendricks hands a double scoop of mint chocolate chip to a repeat customer at Katie’s Ice Cream. Tom Adkinson/Main Street Nashville
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