By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
On Saturday, under the sweltering summer sun, a line of hungry customers wrapped around the historic Ice House at 200 Commerce St., waiting for sundaes, shakes and treats from Goodies Frozen Custard and Treats.
Operating out of a vintage, restored 1952 postal service van, owner Brandon Byrd and his business partner Rozell Moore have taken the DMV by storm. The Goodies food truck currently has pop-up locations at Eastern Market in D.C. and outside of the Ice House in Alexandria, but Byrd plans to open Goodies’ first brick-and-mortar ice cream shop in the Ice House by Labor Day.
As Goodies continues to grow, Byrd’s priorities for the business remain the same: heart, soul, great service and a handcrafted product made by people who care.
“If you’re truly yourself, then other people will see the authenticity and they’ll support you, one, because you have a great product, two, because you have a great experience, three, because you can actually talk about why you created this menu and provided these offerings,” Byrd said.
Before founding Goodies in 2012, Byrd worked in marketing in the entertainment industry. After working for years in the music industry and experiencing his passion fade, Byrd decided to start something new, something that involved things he loved most.
“I wanted something that was wholesome, that was pure,” Byrd said. “I wanted something that involved my love for vintage, classic cars and vehicles and that period of music as well. And that vision basically was this frozen custard concept called ‘Goodies.’”
Byrd didn’t have any formal culinary experience, but he claims that standing by his mother’s side in the kitchen was a culinary education in its own right. Cooking was a tradition and a ritual in Byrd’s house growing up. Born in Decatur, Alabama and raised in California, Byrd grew up around Southern cooking, complete with Sunday dinners.
From the start, Goodies as a concept was inextricably linked with Byrd’s childhood.
His vision for the business was informed by nostalgia, Byrd’s love of classic drive-up hamburger stands in California and the desserts he ate as a kid, like banana pudding and rum cake.
“I really settled on, ‘I’m going to do frozen custard. I’m going to do the custard in this way’ because it had meaning to me,” Byrd said. “It had heart, it had soul. All those things that I experienced as a child were basically being showcased in Goodies.”
The nostalgia extends to the Goodies food truck. Byrd found G.G., his 1952 refurbished postal service van, lying in a junkyard in Arizona, and breathed new life into it. When he’s serving customers, he blasts classic rock and Motown music out of the van’s speakers.
Goodies’ menu, which has not changed much since Byrd created it eight years ago, is built entirely around vanilla Wisconsin-style frozen custard.
The custard is slow churned using a traditional frozen custard machine, not a soft serve machine, so that there is less air in the end product. What distinguishes Wisconsin-style frozen custard is its high butter fat content, about 10% butter fat, Byrd said. Goodies’ custard is made fresh every day at a D.C. production facility.
The simplicity of the vanilla custard allows Byrd to create extravagant, Instagram-ready dessert sandwiches and sundaes, which Byrd prides himself on, he said.
“I want them bad boys to look beautiful when they come out,” Byrd said. “I want you to look at that turtle pecan sundae and, before you even bite it, your mouth is watering, you’re salivating. Like, ‘I know it’s gonna be good.’”
After about a year and a half, Byrd approached Moore, who at the time was in grad school at George Washington University, to talk about getting involved in the business.
Moore had worked on Wall Street, in the world of investment banking, for 16 years and brought a lot of operational experience to the business. What seemed like an odd career choice from the outside actually made perfect sense, Moore said.
“I can actually see the benefit of being on the end where you can see a company grow,” Moore said. “It’s like watching a flower grow from a seed into a small bud into a plant when it becomes full grown and produces.”
The two business partners and friends learned from one another and quickly built an audience through their food and service, Moore said.
“With Goodies, I feel that being able to provide the highest level of customer service in comparison to competitors in the frozen dessert business, that’s really important,” Moore said. “… That’s one of the reasons that we get repeat customers.”
The focus on quality service has engendered the kind of loyalty and passion that most businessowners only dream of. It’s not just about delivering a customer’s food quickly. For Byrd, his customers are his “tribe,” he said.
On rainy days, Byrd has been known to give customers his own umbrella or let them sit in the van to get out of the rain. If customers want something specific that Goodies hasn’t offered in a while, Byrd encourages them to contact him on social media or email.
Byrd recalled one D.C.-based customer who was so obsessed with the rum cake custard sandwich that Byrd ended up including the sandwich on his menu one weekend just because of that customer. The rum cake fan trekked out to Alexandria to pick up a sandwich that Byrd had set aside specifically for him.
Customers like that are the reason Byrd’s passion for the business hasn’t faded after eight years.
“That’s what makes me enthusiastic about getting up in 95-degree weather, no air conditioner with a bowtie around my neck,” Byrd said.
Like most businesses, Goodies’ success has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. A large part of Goodies’ business has been event catering for weddings, birthdays and office events, and the pandemic wiped out his entire event schedule.
Fortunately, the truck and small staff have helped Byrd and Moore stay flexible and nimble. They’ve still been parking the truck at D.C.’s Eastern Market and in front of the Ice House and as Virginia has started to reopen, Goodies has started to pick up events business again.
“Every day I’m blessed. I’m still able to work, and I always say, ‘Slow money better than no money,’” Byrd said. “It’s better to get something than to get nothing. I’m not complaining about what I lost. I’m thankful for what I have.”
As a Black-owned business, Goodies has also become a part of the national conversation around racial injustice that started in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
It’s not a new conversation for Byrd, Moore or members of the Black community, Byrd noted. But the amplification of the conversation in recent months has allowed for a more comprehensive discussion around racial inequality in all areas of American life, including small businesses.
“I remember when I first started out and I needed the money to get started, honestly, my own bank that I’d had for many years wouldn’t even make the loan for me,” Byrd said. “I was like, ‘You know what, I’ll figure out. Don’t worry about it. I’ll just bootstrap it.’ I have a friend of mine who I went to school with and he started a tanning spa business. He told me, ‘Brandon, I just got $180,000,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ I wanted to get $50,000 or $25,000.”
“I look at that and say, ‘If I wasn’t Black, would I be further along?’ Probably. I’m pretty sure, but I never use that as a distraction,” Byrd said.
Byrd said he is aware of how recent events have opened the eyes of a lot of white Americans, and while he appreciates the support he’s received recently, he never wants a customer to come to Goodies just because of his race, he said.
“I never want someone to support me just because I’m Black-owned,” Byrd said. “I want someone to support me because I have a great product. That’s always been my thing. Take the color out of it and how does it taste? How was your experience?”
Goodies’ success, even in recent months amid a global pandemic and national unrest, is a testament to the product, strong branding and Byrd’s guiding philosophy. It’s what allowed Byrd to purchase the Ice House and, like he did with his van, breathe new life into a forgotten relic.
Built in 1931, and originally owned by Mutual Ice Company, the city’s largest distributor of ice, the Ice House was used to store ice at a time before home refrigeration was available for most people, according to local historian David Rotenstein. The site is currently being renovated with plans to open by Labor Day, Sept. 7.
“The Ice House building is one of one,” Byrd said. “It’s this cute little building. It has history, it has a story. It’s been vacant for 20, 30 plus years. It has its own personality, very much like Goodies.”
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