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Cream of the crop

The Chief is the chief of Ice Cream Quest. The tasting started July 4, in the midst of an Elkhart County summer, for the best ice cream you can buy in Elkhart County. The verdict is in just before Labor Day, though sadly the winner will be open for only hours before closing for the summer. The Chief, 502 W. Lincoln Ave., Goshen, is rarely open without a line.
Marshall King
Posted on Aug. 29, 2008 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 29, 2008 at 4:53 p.m.

GOSHEN -- The Chief is the chief of Ice Cream Quest.

The tasting started July 4, in the midst of an Elkhart County summer, for the best ice cream you can buy in Elkhart County. The verdict is in just before Labor Day, though sadly the winner will be open for only hours before closing for the summer.

The Chief, 502 W. Lincoln Ave., Goshen, is rarely open without a line. During the busy four-month season, the owners and those who help them make around 7,000 gallons of ice cream.

I can account for at least several gallons. I stocked up because The Chief will close Saturday after it sells the last of its summer's bounty.

So why is The Chief's ice cream the best in the county?

It's the smoothest and creamiest available. It's dense and not pumped full of air.

It's sweet, like ice cream should be, but isn't too sweet.

The ice cream is made daily. The solitary 46-year-old machine in the back that turns a 12-percent butterfat Bareman's Dairy mix into ice cream runs six to seven hours a day, seven days a week, during the summer. At least one of the four ice cream makers stand alongside, adding flavors to the mix, pouring it into the machine and collecting the resulting ice cream.

"We could make it faster but it wouldn't be as good," co-owner Lowell Vanderveer said.

Buying Chief ice cream is always an experience. The historic stand is staffed by high school students who jot down orders and do the math without electronic assistance. When the owners recruit employees, they ask math teachers for the best students and often get them to work at the stand.

The lines form out front and become their own melting pot of Americana as people await a luscious ice cream that's hand-dipped and handed through a sliding window in exchange for cash, only cash.

And The Chief has a great story. When the Paul Miller family that owned it had health problems, they sold it to Lowell and Jan Vanderveer and Randy and Vanessa Steffen. Jan and Randy are siblings and the two couples were looking for a small business to own together. They reclaimed recipes from the trash bin and reopened the ice cream business in early June 1994.

The ice cream they serve is delicious. The smiles that come with it are free. The employees project the values of the owners, most importantly "treat someone as you want to be treated," Jan Vanderveer said.

The owners work hard and say they're in business, but think of it as a community service. But they credit their employees for their success and point out that the students they hire are busy, accomplished students, so they close the Saturday before Labor Day every year.

"You can buy all the pints you want to buy the Saturday before Labor Day," Jan said.

That is, until they're gone.

They'll keep in a freezer. If you're lucky, your stash will be big enough until the next time pints go on sale. That will be Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, when the owners sell pints and Christmas trees.

My calendar is already marked.



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