Chuck’s Ice Cream Finds Home in Southport
Like so many of us, Chuck Geisel’s love for ice cream emerged at an early age and never left. In 1969, Geisel began working his first job at Welsh Farms Dairy in Long Valley, New Jersey while still in high school. Originally hired to wash milk cans and pull ice, Geisel’s employers quickly realized that he had an affinity towards learning all facets of the ice cream business, and he soon found himself doing every sort of job in the plant, from running the machines to making byproducts.
“Then as soon as I graduated high school, they sent me to school to learn how to make ice cream and how to do the formulations for the mix,” says Geisel. “I even went to a taste-testing school and became an ice cream taster when I was 18 years old. I learned how to taste ice cream for saltiness, sweetness, grittiness, and texture.”
Geisel spent the next 16 years selling the farm’s ice cream mix and helping customers develop stores by teaching them how to operate their machines and make their product. When the dairy closed in 1987, he began working for Taylor Equipment Company, makers of soft serve ice cream machines. Geisel spent the next 20 years designing stores, working with contractors during construction, and then training staff on effective operations, all in addition to still selling the equipment.
In the meantime, Geisel had also opened five of his own ice cream shops throughout New Jersey, and in 2006 he and his wife Debbie moved to Nevada to open another one. However, a bout of illness a year later prompted the couple to move back East to be closer to family.
“We both had family in New Jersey and in Florida, so we chose North Carolina so that we could be in the middle. Debbie likes the beach so we settled on Southport. We’ve been here for nine years now and we love it here,” says Geisel.
Once Geisel’s health improved, his passion for ice cream soon led him back to the industry. Six years ago he and Debbie started putting a wholesale business back together. Located in Southport, Chuck’s Homemade Ice Cream now produces about 300 to 400 tubs of ice cream a week. Last August the couple opened a retail shop at 4956 Old Long Beach Road. Debbie runs the shop, while Chuck makes the ice cream and oversees the wholesale business.
“Our shop is open year-round. That’s why we opened up, because customers were asking where they could get my ice cream when everybody I was selling to would close right after September. So we took on the old Subway location and we’ve been doing very well here,” says Geisel.
When it comes to the actual product, the popularity of Chuck’s Ice Cream speaks for itself. The Geisels deliver all the way up to Swansboro and south to Myrtle Beach, their ice cream currently retailing in about 20 stores.
“My ice cream is homemade and very rich, because I make it with a formula I created up in New Jersey using a fresh pasteurized milk. It’s not ultra-pasteurized, which is a faster process that uses a lot of heat and ends up cooking the milk, giving it a different taste,” explains Geisel. “Fresh pasteurized takes twice as long, so I had to find a dairy out of state to make it for me the way I want it, and they deliver 1000 gallons of milk a week to me. It’s a high butterfat ice cream, which makes a big difference.”
Geisel says that he still tastes every batch he makes to ensure that everything is up to his satisfaction. With over 50 rotating flavors available at the retail shop, customers can choose from more traditional options or opt for other unique concoctions, like Twisted Turtle, Mary Jane Candy Bar, or Midnight Attack.
“A lot of customers ask for the Southport Sunset, which is coconut ice cream with strawberry and pineapple weaved through it,” says Debbie. “Our pistachio is unique because it has real pistachio nuts in it, which is hard to come by these days.”
The store’s most popular flavor, and Geisel’s own personal favorite, is Mud Pie, a coffee fudge ice cream with Oreo cookies in it.
“When I was a little boy I would always order Coffee Royal ice cream, which was a coffee fudge flavor, and the guy that would give it to me would always put an Oreo cookie on it,” remembers Geisel.
Ask Geisel the oddest flavor he’s ever made, and be ready to start envisioning ice cream in a whole new way. He will rattle off all sorts of bizarre creations, including creamed corn, broccoli, spinach, peas and carrots.
“If you think about it, I’ve made it. I suppose the weirdest one might be Beef Chip Dip. We made it for a contest in Lancaster, Pennsylvania back when I belonged to the Ice Creamers, an association that collects ice cream memorabilia,” says Gesiel. “We were asked to make odd flavors, and we first came up with Beef Chip ice cream made with beef bouillon, dried tomato and dried onions. After we froze it, we tasted it and realized something was missing, something salty, so I decided that we would just change the name to Beef Chip Dip ice cream and serve it with potato chips!”
The Geisels are enjoying their time in Brunswick County and consider themselves fortunate to have chosen such a great community in which to open their business. Debbie appreciates the slower, more relaxed pace here, a much different atmosphere than where she grew up twenty minutes outside of New York City. She also loves the friendliness of the people she encounters every day when they walk inside her shop.
“I like when older people come in and they’re like kids in a candy shop. The smiles on their faces are unbelievable. And then when the little babies come in and you give them their first cone, that’s priceless. At first, they don’t like the cold of the ice cream, but then all of a sudden they’re grabbing for the cone. Those are the things I like to see.”
As for Chuck, he still loves every part of working in the ice cream business, and he wouldn’t have life any other way.
“I’ve always been a sweet tooth. I’ve been making ice cream for 47 years, and I love every minute of it. In the summer I’m making ice cream for 6 to 8 hours a day, then delivering it, putting it away, and doing ordering, but as far as I’m concerned I’m retired, because I’m doing exactly what I love. When people tell me that this is the best ice cream they’ve ever had, well there’s just nothing wrong with that.”
Want to visit Chuck’s Homemade Ice Cream?
4956 Old Long Beach Road, Southport, NC
Visit https://www.facebook.com/ChucksHomemade/ or call (973) 476-4312.