The pastel red and green, a cow rubbing its belly eating ice cream—isn’t it iconic…don’t you think? Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream can be found in ice cream shops all over Wisconsin, but it comes from a manufacturing plant on Daniels Street, just off Buckeye Road between Highways 90 and 51, right here in Madison. Since its inception, in 1962, the family business has been steeped in supporting and celebrating all things local.

Thanks to a plant expansion in 2022, Chocolate Shoppe is now making its own ice cream mix, the unique blend that serves as a base for all their ice cream, using milk from Sassy Cow Creamery. Co-owner Dave Deadman says, “Two to three times a week, we get a semi load of James and Robert’s milk. It’s beautiful because, A, they’re an amazing company and an amazing family doing the dairy stuff and farming right in Bristol and, B, we get to have super locally sourced dairy.”

Prior to the expansion, Schoep’s in Madison; Galloway Company in Neenah; and Meadowvale in Sandwich, Illinois, were making Chocolate Shoppe’s mix to the family’s specifications. It came as a little bit of a surprise to Dave when Schoep’s and Galloway told him that he’d be happier going forward if Chocolate Shoppe made its own mix as it would give Chocolate Shoppe more flexibility. Turns out the dairy industry is very collaborative, believing that if one company is successful, it helps everyone else in the industry.

This idea translates to Dave’s philosophy on ice cream stores across the state. “You won’t find our pints in grocery stores outside of Madison, and that’s by choice. We really want ice cream stores to succeed. We like ice cream stores. We feel that if we don’t sell Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream in grocery stores, the ice cream store is then a special place to go for our ice cream, and you support the local ice cream store.”

Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream does not operate as a franchise. Only a handful of Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream stores in Madison actually belong to Dave. The rest are private ice cream stores that choose to carry Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream. The mission isn’t to dominate the ice cream world, but to help others succeed.

To further aide in the success of local ice cream stores throughout the state, those carrying Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream can come to the manufacturing plant and use the mock ice cream store training center. “Anybody who wants to serve our ice cream in their ice cream store or restaurant, we bring them in here; train them how to scoop ice cream; care for ice cream; serve customers; make malts, shakes, sundaes. We also take them out to our own ice cream stores here in Madison.

“People create their own dream on what they want their business to be. We are going to help them serve the ice cream in that dream. If ice cream is part of that dream, we can help them do that. But their business is their own dream and their own creation. We like that part of it. You see a lot of fun and creativity that way.”

It was this same business model that brought Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream into existence. In 1962, Dave’s parents, Chuck Sr. and Nancy Deadman, started a candy store in Madison on Cottage Grove Road and Monona Drive that was part of Chocolate House Candies. “They were a candy company in Milwaukee,” says Dave. “So my parents said we’ll buy their candies and resell them. But they wanted more than just candy, so they ended up buying a custard machine from Leon’s Custard, which is a Milwaukee-based custard company to this day.”

Soon enough, the super-premium ice cream became the focus of Chuck Sr. and Nancy’s sales. Chocolate House Candies reached out to them and said they needed to start selling more of their candies or change the name, and Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream was born.

“That’s our niche in the industry,” says Dave. “It’s called super premium, which is the higher butter fat, denser product, meaning there’s less air in it. Our three-gallon containers weigh 20 pounds, where a lower-cost ice cream would weigh 14 pounds for the exact same size.”

Thanks to the expansion, Chocolate Shoppe’s richer product comes in more flavors than ever before. Dave believes they’ve come out with almost a dozen new flavors this year alone. He’s also working with local companies to come up with new ideas, like a collaboration he’s doing with Octopi Brewing in Waunakee. Chocolate Shoppe uses Octopi’s stout to infuse into the ice cream and create something to be released simultaneously alongside the beer.

Dave fully acknowledges the support of the community to get Chocolate Shoppe to where it is today, going so far as to say ice cream stores belong to the community. Every ice cream store owner soon realizes after opening that their store is actually a gathering place for events and meetings.

“The community supports us as a business and a family,” says Dave. “We make our income and livelihood out of the community, so my parents, very early on, said you have to be part of the community and give back to the community always.” Chocolate Shoppe sponsors events all over the Greater Madison area. In fact, when looking at lists of sponsors for area festivals, it’s rare to not see the belly-rubbing cow.

Last year was Chocolate Shoppe’s 60th anniversary. Through all the challenges and successes the decades have brought, it seems to me the owners remain grateful for each and every opportunity they’ve earned. From their 100 employees at the plant to every dreamer carrying their product, the Deadmans recognize each moving part as essential. That goes all the way to the consumer. Dave likes to say, “Nobody knows the 1,000 steps between cow and cone. Nor should they. … Have fun. It’s ice cream.”

Kyle Jacobson is a writer/editor who thinks The Wizard of Oz is a science fiction story concerning teleportation.
Photos by Eric Tadsen.