Dairy Godmother enters new era with change in ownership

Dairy Godmother enters new era with change in ownership
Dairy Godmother, open since 2001, has long been popular for its frozen treats (Photo Credit: Tina Gehring)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

Liz Davis can remember the past lives of the building that now houses The Dairy Godmother at 2310 Mt. Vernon Ave. 

As a child, she and her sisters would often go into The Scotch House, a retailer that sold women’s clothing. Later, in 2000, she returned to the space, which had been vacant for about nine months, with a business idea.

Davis opened her custard shop, initially called the Del Ray Dreamery, in June 2001. Though her establishment has changed names since opening, Davis has remained committed to the Wisconsin frozen treat and, over time, has added baked goods and sorbets to its list of offerings. It has also hosted famous visitors, from former President Barack Obama to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Through all of that, though, Davis said her favorite part of the experience has been watching Del Ray’s youngest residents from year to year.

“My favorite memories are watching the kids grow up,” Davis said. “I’ve watched them marry each other and have kids.”

After 17 years of ownership, however, Davis felt she had done all she could with the custard shop. That’s when she first advertised in January 2017 that the Dairy Godmother would not resume operations after her annual one-month vacation – or at least she herself would not be reopening it. She made the announcement on social media — news that was quickly picked up by media outlets — that she would look for a buyer and interested parties should contact her. 

Longtime customer Russell Gravatt saw the media reports and the experienced chef reached out to her in February. He was working as a chef for Design Cuisine in D.C. and was looking for a new solo venture at the time. His wife and two daughters were immediately on board.

“I sat down and talked with them about it. It was a family vote,” Gravatt said.

Although Davis had about 300 inquiries about selling her business, Gravatt was the applicant who stood out. It also helped that Davis had known him and his family for years before he approached her about buying the business.

“You have to have the heart and the experience. I had a lot of people approach me with a lot of heart, but I wanted someone with both, and he has it,” Davis said.

Gravatt also has Alexandria ties. Though he now lives in Bethesda, he initially moved up from his native Texas in the mid-1980s to start the original Austin Grill on King Street. The Southwestern eatery closed last year and has since been replaced by Hen Quarter, but Gravatt was a frequent visitor to Del Ray during that time.

“You see the same faces almost on a daily basis,” Gravatt said. “It’s so unique. Del Ray feels like a small neighborhood.”

For the past month, Gravatt has been working in the Dairy Godmother every day, starting in the morning with taking inventory and getting the custard and baked goods started.

He said he enjoys the creativity that the sweets shop affords, particularly when it comes to sorbet flavors. So far, he’s experimented with a number of tastes, from black vinegar to hibiscus mint.

Gravatt and Davis say that she will be staying around for the next few months in order to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“She’ll always be a part of it,” Gravatt said. “She is the dairy godmother.”

Gravatt said Dairy Godmother customers should expect very few changes, and that he doesn’t plan to fix what isn’t broken. There will be a few new faces around the store, however. His wife and two daughters will be helping him run the business.

“We’re all in it,” Gravatt said. “My daughters are so excited.”

And for Davis, the sale of her business is just one of several big changes in her life: She’s getting married in the fall and looks to create something new. Davis expressed gratitude that she played a role in the building’s history, but is also happy to be passing it on.

“I’m glad I got to be its caretaker,” Davis said.