Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Century of Scoops: Michael's Ice Cream

BY Samantha Kinhan

Driving down Route 93 through Jackson, Ohio, strip malls and chain restaurants slowly give way to the historic, downtown center. Instead of a Wal-Mart, there is Lewis Drug Store, operating since 1891. And instead of a Dairy Queen or Wendy’s, there’s Michael’s Ice Cream.

Michael’s is one of the longest-standing staples in Jackson, currently enjoying its 100th year as a family-owned business. Tom Michael is a third generation owner of the store. Today, his wife Joan, is manning the front counter. While she takes care of customers, I take a look around.

The interior decor modestly resembles a traditional ice cream parlor, complete with old-fashioned glassware. However, certain aspects such as the marble counter tops give the store a modern flair. Historic photographs of Jackson from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s line the walls, almost as an ode to Michael’s longevity.

Michael’s history dates back to 1903, when 16-year-old Joe Michael came to the United States from Lebanon. For a time, he worked as a pack peddler, selling his wares throughout various counties in southeastern Ohio. When that fell through, he took a job building up car shops in Jackson, but he still had financial concerns. So, he began a second job working for his friend, Joe Abraham, who owned an ice cream store in Ironton. It was there that he learned the art of ice-cream making. Joe brought his skills back to Jackson, and opened Michael’s Ice Cream in 1909.

Joe eventually passed the business on to his two sons, Ed and Moses. The store continued to make its own ice cream until 1966, when the owners opted to buy from a local distributor. Michael’s currently sells 16 flavors of ice cream, accompanied by 14 homemade toppings including hot fudge, pineapple, black raspberry and peanut butter.

From its inception, Michael’s has been best known for two items: “the bubble” and home-roasted nuts. The bubble is a delicious concoction of French vanilla ice cream draped with hot chocolate sauce and marshmallow sauce, then generously topped with fresh roasted peanuts. After trying one for myself, I can see why it is the most popular item at Michael’s—the homemade sauces and crushed peanuts make the bubble completely authentic.

The home roasted peanuts have their own unique story. Originally, Joe ordered a popcorn-making machine for the store; instead, he received a peanut roaster. He decided to keep the roaster and Michael’s still roasts a variety of peanuts today, ranging from Spanish to redskin. In fact, former Ohio governor James Rhodes’ first job was at Michael’s working the hand-crank peanut roaster. As a tribute to his first employer, governor Rhodes gave Michael’s a framed photograph from his inauguration.

Two teenage boys sit down and order bubbles; one of them is definitely a first-timer. As they slurp down their treats, the bubble veteran says, “Now it’s your obligation to show another person.” With such dedicated patronage, it’s no wonder that Michael’s continues to operate as one of the most popular businesses in Jackson.


Unknown said...

Moved to Fl. at the age of 18...always get a bubble when I come back to Jackson!!! Not another ice cream palor like it... and lets not forget the veals.....yummmm
Debbie Bates Keller

Renae_n_Billy said...

We moved to Texas not too long after marriage. Although as children we both lived in larger cities, we were sooo Jackson County. Our first trip into a Bas'Robbins, Billy ordered a Bubble. The looked at us as if we had 2 heads. We explained. Wound up with a turtle. I'm not sure how long it took us to realize that like the JCVeal, the Bubble was exclusive to our home. Moving back to Jackson not many years later, we were thankful for so much more than just family and jobs...Thanks Tom and family for continuing the tradition. Just because the building moved, the business never changed. Keep up the good work.