Sundae drive: Islanders keep dairy bars booming on P.E.I.

Hayden MacPherson serves a double scoop of banana ice cream at Icy Scoops in Charlottetown. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)
Hayden MacPherson serves a double scoop of banana ice cream at Icy Scoops in Charlottetown. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)

This story is from this week's episode of the new CBC podcast Good Question, P.E.I. Listen here.

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Picture this: You're standing at the dairy bar window as the young server holds the cone in place, pulls the grey lever and watches the soft vanilla ice cream pour slowly into a perfect, sweet swirl.

Or maybe they're dragging that round metal scoop across a tub of hard strawberry ice cream as it peels up and forms into a pink ball of deliciousness.

Either way, you're probably stoked.

The Richmond Dairy Bar is one of about 60 on P.E.I. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"I don't think anybody can get mad when you're serving them a cone of ice cream," said Amy Ramsay, owner of Sunny's Dairy Bar in Miscouche.

It's one of about 60 dairy bars on P.E.I. If that sounds like a lot, it is.

Chad Mann, the CEO of Amalgamated Dairies Ltd., thinks we probably have the highest consumption of dairy per capita in Canada. He should know. His company supplies a lot of the ice cream, and his counterparts in other provinces are envious.

"The dairy bar market on P.E.I. is very healthy and very vibrant and there's been a lot of new entrants to it. And I look back in the last five years and I keep seeing, look at all the new business popping up in the dairy bars. They seem to be doing fine, too."

The oldest of the bunch is the Kiwanis Dairy Bar in Charlottetown's Victoria Park. It opened in 1955, and is run by the Kiwanis Club, a not-for-profit community service club that supports charitable organizations with a focus on children and youth programs.

William McGuigan, president of the Kiwanis Club of Charlottetown, said the dairy bar is looking to raise money for a major renovation to keep up with demand.

"Even during COVID, our sales increased like year over year. The dairy bar has just gotten busier, even while seeing other dairy bars open in Charlottetown and more competition and, you know, just like coffee shops in Canada, Islanders love their dairy."

Chad Mann, the CEO of Amalgamated Dairies Ltd., says the dairy market on P.E.I. is 'very healthy and very vibrant.' (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Heather Harris is one of those Islanders. She grew up in Kensington, home of the iconic Frosty Treat. She was curious about Islanders' fascination with dairy bars and reached out to the CBC podcast Good Question, P.E.I.

Host Nicola MacLeod covered the story like hot fudge on a sundae. During her "dairy bar hop," she discovered many people agree with Anne of Green Gables: there's nothing more delectable than ice cream.

Sunny's Dairy Bar in Miscouche is one of a growing number on P.E.I. to offer drive-thru service. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Some plan their outings around it. They have their favourite dairy bars, and their favourite flavours. Crushed Oreo cookies prove to be a popular ingredient, there's no such thing as too many sprinkles, and Belgian dips seem to be the new rage.

But there are a lot of traditionalists, including the ADL CEO himself, who prefer the simple combination soft cone.

"I haven't been let down on that product there, it's true and stable," Mann said. "So I've been buying that for long before I was in the dairy industry."

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