At the end of a historically frigid week, another scoop of frozen news has arrived, one that will undoubtedly be more welcome in the Chippewa Valley than the polar vortex: For the first time in 75 years, Olson’s Ice Cream will be serving up its signature product somewhere other than its quaint shop on Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls. On Friday, Feb. 1, Olson’s revealed that it is expanding into Eau Claire with a 2,300-square-foot store inside Haymarket Landing, a mixed-use building at the corner of South Barstow and Eau Claire streets. The new store is expected to open this spring.
“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen,” said Jeremy Hunt, Olson’s co-owner and general manager.
“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen.” – Jeremy Hunt, co-owner and general manager, Olson’s Ice Cream
Back in January, the legendary local purveyor of frozen treats, announced it would be expanding into Eau Claire, but kept the spot a secret until Friday morning. Olson’s held a contest on its Facebook page, soliciting guesses about the location of the new store and promising free ice cream for a year to three customers who guessed the new site correctly. Nearly 1,200 people submitted guesses, many of them pointing to the former Smiling Moose, 329 Riverfront Terrace, or the former Lynn’s Chatterbox Cafe, 1410 S Hastings Way, as potential locations.
“We were very humbled and amazed by all the feedback,” said Hunt, whose parents, Dan and Linda, bought Olson’s from its founding family in 2007. (Forty to 50 Olson’s fans correctly identified the Haymarket Landing area as the shop’s future site.)
At a press conference, the Hunts said they are aiming to open the new location at 80 S. Barstow St. by Memorial Day. The shop will have 50 to 70 seats – including, most likely, some on the sidewalk along Barstow Street – and will create as many as 25 new jobs, the Hunts said. The expansion will entail some new offerings beyond its signature ice cream flavors such as Butter Pecan and Chocolate Monster. “With two locations, we will be able to bring even more treats to our customers, and we’re developing some new products for the spring opening,” Jeremy Hunt said.
While Olson’s has considered staking a claim in Eau Claire for years, Jeremy Hunt’s decision to join the family business last year helped push the idea into reality, Dan Hunt said. The family considered numerous sites around the city – including near Oakwood Mall, on Clairemont Avenue, and elsewhere – before settling on the Haymarket Landing storefront, which has been empty since the mixed-used building opened in 2016.
“It’s a beautiful location, a beautiful building, and we can’t wait to open in Eau Claire,” said Dan Hunt, adding that the site’s proximity to the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Phoenix Park, and other downtown amenities made it ideal. The Hunts are working with contractor Market & Johnson and River Valley Architects to design and build the shop.
Haymarket Landing features a floor of commercial space below five floors of UW-Eau Claire student housing – meaning 400 potential customers will literally be living in the same building.
Ice Cream Flowing Downtown ...
The new Olson’s will be the second ice cream shop to open in downtown Eau Claire in recent years. In 2017, Blayne and Kayla Midthun opened Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor at 503 Galloway St. – just a few blocks from Haymarket Landing. Blayne Midthun said the downtown location – which is right off the bike trail and next to two busy streets, Farwell and Galloway – has been a big factor in Ramone’s success.
“Of course it would be nice if we could continue to be the only ice cream parlor in downtown Eau Claire, but we know that we can’t control what’s going on outside of our doors,” Midthun said.
“Today, people have many options for where they will eat, drink coffee, (and) be entertained, and now they will have another option for ice cream,” he added. Ramone’s sells Madison-made Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, as well as sundaes, malts, pies, and craft sodas.
Olson’s founder Albert J. Olson began making “homaid” ice cream with a partner at Knapp Dairy in 1923. In 1944, he relocated to Chippewa Falls to open Olson’s Creamland Dairy, where he processed milk and made ice cream. Today, the business is still in the same building at 611 N. Bridge St. In 2007, the Olson family sold the business to the Hunt family, who continue to operate it. While Olson’s Ice Cream has been previously been served up at other locations – including numerous restaurants, Festival Foods, and the 9 Degrees ice cream cart – this will be the first time Olson’s itself has opened a new location since the Second World War.
A landmark at the “original” Olson’s is a larger-than-life ice cream cone that tempts passersby from the sidewalk. Dan Hunt said he plans on getting a similar giant cone for the Eau Claire shop, either to place on the sidewalk or on the awning above the front door as a visual cue to the delicious treats being scooped inside.