Chad McWreath remembers the first flavor he ever tasted at a Bruster’s Real Ice Cream shop: Banana Chocolate Chip. It made such an impression on him that he decided he wanted to go into business with the ice cream company.
“I’d never had anything like it in my life,” McWreath says. “So it stayed in the back of my mind. Then about four years ago, on a 55-degree day in January, we were sitting outside and my wife says ‘Where can we get some ice cream; are there any shops open?’ So I said, ‘You know, we should just open one.'”
McWreath researched other potential opportunities, but when he called Bruster’s and found out they still made the Banana Chocolate Chip, he was sold.
McWreath is the franchisee of the Squirrel Hill Bruster’s located on Browns Hill Road, and if anyone was born to sell ice cream, it is probably him. He knows every detail of every flavor made by Bruster’s. And he thinks about ice cream a lot: the texture, the taste, the proper holding temperature … he knows it all.
Bruster’s does not deep freeze its ice cream and makes batches that last a max of four days.
“But we never have any left longer than that because it’s all so good,” McWreath adds.
Putting the “Bru” in “Bruster’s,” Bruce Reed opened the ice cream company’s first store on July 14, 1989, in Bridgewater, PA. The original Beaver County location was (and still is) adjacent to the drive-through restaurant, Jerry’s Curb Service, says Jennifer Brinker, vice president of marketing for Bruster’s.
“Jerry’s was his family’s business,” says Brinker, adding the restaurant just celebrated its 75th anniversary. “He was really looking for a complementary business to put on the adjacent lot to Jerry’s, and that’s how he started the whole Bruster’s concept. The whole premise was selling premium ice cream with stellar customer service and a very family-friendly atmosphere.”
Each location of Bruster’s offers 24 different flavors daily, made fresh on-site, from its vast menu of 150 flavors.
And Bruster’s serves more than just ice cream; the menu also includes sherbets, sorbets, ice cream cakes, pies, shakes, and freezes (sorbet, sherbet or Italian ice blended with Sprite). Bruster’s also offers non-dairy, no-sugar-added and vegan varieties.
McWreath showed off the vegan Coffee Chocolate Chip made with oat milk. And this writer would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between that and a dairy version. “It’s creamy, that’s the oat milk,” he notes.
Bruster’s is so confident in its vegan flavors that the ice cream company is sponsoring Pittsburgh VegFest on Aug. 5 at Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side. The Bruster’s Ice Cream truck will be there serving five of its 17 vegan flavors.
Since its inception in Beaver County decades ago, Bruster’s has expanded to more than 200 locations in 22 states as well as to South Korea and Guyana.
But the company also tries to stay true to its Pittsburgh roots.
Starting Aug. 1, participating stores in the Pittsburgh area will offer the Heyward Blitz Sundae created by Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward: Cookie Dough ice cream, chocolate syrup, Oreo cookie pieces, brownie bites, whipped cream, and a cherry on top. For every Blitz Sundae sold, $1 will be donated to The Heyward House, which is part of the athlete’s nonprofit foundation.
As he got ready to open on a recent weekday, McWreath hurried around the shop, which is designed like a restaurant with the front of the house, where the customers place orders at the window, and the back of the house, where the ice cream and other treats are made — a full-time ice cream production facility, he says.
Other ice cream shops might brag about their line, he adds, but he aims to keep enough windows open so that people don’t have to wait too long.
“I figure I’ve got customers for 15 minutes,” McWreath says. “I want them to be able to come here and be in a clean, entertaining environment where they’re going to get the best ice cream they’ve ever had. If I’ve got customers coming in happy, and leaving happy, I’m doing my job.”