30 years of ice cream at 26th and Colorado

       In August 1979, Bill and Yvonne Grimes opened a business that would become one of the most successful in Old Colorado City history.

Colorado City Creamery families old and new are together in this photo outside the store at 2602 W. Colorado Ave. Behind this summer's promotional cow are (from left) Mark, Carrie and Sarah Burris of the current ownership and Yvonne and Melanie Grimes from the original family. Inset at right is Bill Grimes, who was unable to join the photo session Aug. 5 when health issues arose with his father.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Thirty years later, Saturday, Aug. 15, current Colorado City Creamery owners Carrie and Mark Burris will celebrate the store's anniversary. The party - which also coincides with their fifth year as owners - will include the Grimeses as “guest-dippers,” as well as promotional activities, representatives of the non-profit Childhood Hematology Oncology Associates (a children's cancer group that will receive proceeds from the day) and, of course, plenty of ice cream.
       If there's any secret to the store's longevity at 2602 W. Colorado Ave., it's the product itself. The Creamery makes its own ice cream and controls what goes into it. The Burrises still deploy the original Grimes formula, which uses 14 percent butterfat. (By contrast, according to Bill Grimes, many ice creams have a lower percent, while the former Michelle's store downtown used to be at 16. The Michelle's product “was good, but too rich,” Bill said, noting that as a result people would tend to feel full after a relatively small amount. “We wanted people to buy more,” he grinned.
       Freshness is another factor. By controlling the amount of ice cream that's made, Burris estimated her product is nearly always less than two weeks old. “That's got to be a huge key to why it's so good,” she said.
       Bill and Yvonne also sought out high-quality ingredients - a practice continued by the Burrises. “We've changed little or nothing,” said Carrie Burris, who handles the day-to-day operations of the store (Mark did so at first, but later took the opportunity to manage a moving-company agency). The only time changes to original recipes have to be made is when certain brands of ingredients stop being available for whatever reasons. But the Burrises have a supplier in Denver whose standing order is to make sure that anything obtained keeps the same high standards, Carrie said.
       Another strong similarity is the family involvement. Bill and Yvonne worked side by side in the original Creamery, eventually getting help from their daughter Melanie. (As a side note, Melanie was born in November 1980, scarcely a year after the store opened. “I was doing ice cream that morning, and I had her in the evening,” Yvonne recalled, simply.)
LEFT: Yvonne and Bill Grimes are shown behind the counter at the Colorado City Creamery during their first year (1979). RIGHT: A Skelly station, built on the site in 1934, provided prominent design elements that the Grimeses decided to retain in their renovation of the building.
Courtesy of Bill and Yvonne Grimes

       Mark and Carrie have the help of two offspring. Brian, 24, handles commercial deliveries. He will also take over ice cream-making chores from his sister Sarah, 20, who will be returning to the University of Northern Colorado this month for her junior year, Carrie said.
       The Creamery's origins are unusual. Bill and Yvonne Grimes did not set out to start an ice cream store. But they did dabble in real estate, and in 1979 they found themselves owning the property at 2602 W. Colorado. At first, they had no specific plans for the site, although there were some interesting historical aspects. A fun coincidence was that Bill's great-grandfather, Samuel Stevens, had owned a harness shop there in the early 1900s. In the 1930s, a Skelly gas station was built on the property. Other businesses followed (including an early 7-Eleven that added onto the building's east side). But half a century later the structure still retained the Skelly front chimney and steeply peaked gable over the front door.
       Interested in Old Colorado City redevelopment's in the late '70s, Bill and Yvonne - both long-time Westside residents - asked Dave Hughes, who was leading the effort as the director of the West Colorado Springs Commercial Club, what would be a good business to put there. “An ice cream store,” Hughes promptly replied.
       “We thought, 'Why not?'” Yvonne said. “We didn't know anything about ice cream, but we could learn.”
       Asked this week about his suggestion, Hughes said that at the time, “I had made a mental list of all the businesses I thought could help attract customers to this area.” Suggesting ice cream was “hardly rocket science,” he added because it fit well with Old Town's retail shops, restaurants, Victorian-era historic district, and even the 'Mack's Ice Cream' ghost sign from the days when the Waycott Opera House operated in the building that houses Meadow Muffins. “Why wouldn't it work?” Hughes asked, rhetorically.
       Moving forward, Bill and Yvonne renovated the building inside and out, keeping the Skelly design touches and emphasizing an old-fashioned ice cream parlor look and feel.
       Two early setbacks actually worked in the Grimeses' favor. One was the financial weakness of an ice cream company that they initially planned to franchise with. That resulted in becoming independent, researching and ultimately developing their own ice cream formula. Another disappointment (at least initially) was not being able to open at the start of summer 1979, due to a strike by the Kelvinator refrigeration company. Having to open instead in August cost Bill and Yvonne most of the summer trade. On the other hand, they discovered they still had plenty to learn about the ice cream business. And it was easier to “get it together,” as Bill put it, during the slower winter months.
       Success came almost too quickly. In their first full summer, 1980, they realized they had underestimated how much ice cream they needed. The Creamery actually ran out of product on, of all days, July 4.
       After a 500-square-foot expansion, the Creamery was able to not only handle the sometimes-long lines that would form on hot summer days but also to nurture a wholesale operation geared to business customers such as restaurants and hotels. They even made ice cream flavors unique to such customers - for example, Broadmoor Vanilla, which the Burrises continue to make, is offered only at the Broadmoor Hotel.
       Part of their success, Bill and Yvonne believe, stemmed from following three rules they established from the outset. Surprisingly, their list does not put product quality first in priority. That honor belongs to cleanliness - “I had one employee label me 'Mrs. Clean Freak,'” Yvonne chuckled Good service was third. The point is, “if a place looks and smells clean, you've got it whipped,” Bill said.
       The Burrises are actually the third owners of the Creamery. The Grimeses sold the business in 1998 to Neil and Sandy Schroeder, who ran it until 2004, and have since moved to California. They still own the property.
       Why did Bill and Yvonne sell? A lot of it was the time investment. Bill recalled years of getting up at 3 a.m. seven days a week to make ice cream for wholesale customers, then possibly, if an employee didn't come through, having to close up at 11 p.m. that night, only to be up at 3 again the next day. Also, he noted, by then their daughter Melanie was finishing high school, and he and Yvonne wanted to be involved in that.
       Over the years, there have been Colorado City Creamery stores at a few other locations in the area, including Rockrimmon and the Citadel Mall, but none did as well as the original store, and now it's the only one that remains.
       Carrie Burris agrees that the store is hard work, but she enjoys being “chief cook and bottle washer,” inventing flavors (such as this summer's Blue Moon, which she described as the taste of milk that Fruit Loops have been in), planning promotions (such as naming the fiberglass cow in front of the store) and talking to customers (such as an out-of-stater recently who ordered a float she'd never heard of).
       “This is a fabulous place to own a business,” she said.

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