Betty Rae’s creator David Friesen whips up ice cream flavors worth remembering.
He and his wife, Mary, launched the Waldo-based ice cream shop and bakery in 2016, which took off at a pace that Friesen compared to a lightning strike. Just eight months ago, they added a River Market location to keep up with demand.
The couple met working in an ice cream parlor out of college, so they “had an itch” for starting an ice cream business together, Friesen said.
After what Friesen estimates to be “about 5 million name attempts,” the duo named the shop Betty Rae’s after Friesen’s grandmother. They liked that it had a “Midwestern” and homey feel to it.
“It was nice to make the name personal and unique in that way because people respond to it,” Friesen said. “People get a sense of it even if they know nothing about the history.”
‘Something for every palate’
Betty Rae’s features a wide array of both traditional and unique ice cream flavors. Some of the more avant-garde tastes include goat cheese, chicken and waffles (“I just went for it”) and a Joe’s Barbecue profile that Friesen said he feels quite proud of — “the burnt ends, the caramel, the cream base all come together and work really well.”
The flavors sell like crazy, so you wouldn’t guess that most of the ideas for them are brainstormed on the fly. Friesen recounted a recent impulse in which he bought $1,800 worth of Girl Scout cookies from a local troop, then whipped them up into a new ice cream flavor. The addition has been a massive hit.
“Even down to the flavor distribution, I want to make something for every palate,” Friesen said.
The flavors themselves, he explained, are rooted in Kansas City culture, as well as most of the amenities in Betty Rae’s shops. Local artists provide the stores’ wall art, and a Kansas City muralist painted the exterior wall of the River Market building.
“We work with all local vendors,” Friesen said. “We try to keep everything as specific as possible because specificity is where quality happens.”
Experiential ice cream
Friesen is fastidious in running his business, from the wallpaper to the plants to the fruit selection. For him, Betty Rae’s goes beyond a sweet treat—it’s memory-making.
“I really like the experiential quality of ice cream,” he said. “I remember some ice cream I’ve had back to the age of five and the places my family would go.
“When I see little kids and families coming in, it’s amazing. They’re happy, and it’s a memory that their whole family will have. Yes, the ice cream may be awesome, but the experience is more important.”
On the go
When he started out, Friesen had no plans for a mobile arm to the business, but high demand prompted him to set up a Betty Rae’s ice cream truck last spring.
The addition has “immeasurably” expanded business, and he says nearly every day the truck is booked for events and rentals.
“We run the truck from the most populated areas of the city out to the country,” he said. “It’s boosted visibility like crazy. It basically functions as a rolling billboard.”
Even with the store’s quick success rate, Friesen is cautious about expansion. He wants to ensure his employees are participating in artisanry, not mindless mass production.
“It’s really important to me to make sure that people feel that they’re contributing to something good and that they’re appreciated,” Friesen said.
“For that reason, we’ll never be mail order, or even in grocery stores. It changes what you’re doing in an invisible way. Customers may not see it, but it changes your business and the quality of the ice cream.”
Betty Rae’s, which suffered none of an ice cream shop’s usual winter doldrums, has geared up for a hectic summer season.
While you may not find Betty Rae’s in a grocery store, there’s a good chance another location will appear soon—but for now, Friesen is taking it easy.
“I’m not trying to rush anything because I’m sure that an opportunity will pop up that feels right,” he said.