Wilma Andrews has never missed an Andrews family reunion. Even after moving from Berkley to Denver, her entire year’s schedule is arranged so that she is free to travel and to spend a week socializing with kids, grandkids, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends and attend a huge reunion picnic at Lake St. Clair Metropark.
But to Andrews, just as important during her yearly visit as that picnic, is at least one visit to Ray’s Ice Cream on Coolidge in Royal Oak.
“Ray’s has been part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Andrews says. “When my four children were young and we’d be going somewhere as a family, if we drove anywhere near Ray’s, the kids would laugh and chant, ‘Ray’s ICE cream! Ray’s ICE cream!’ And we usually did end up stopping there for cones, sodas and sundaes.”
“My grandfather, Raymond Stevens, opened Ray’s Ice Cream in 1958,” says third-generation owner, Tom Stevens, “and ran it with my dad, Dale Stevens, and my grandmother, Bernice.”
“My grandfather had worked at Mints Dairy and loved the business. When the dairy closed, my grandfather decided to open a facility to manufacture ice cream. He found some affordable property on Coolidge and built the building where we continue to operate.”
“My grandfather was only planning to be a wholesaler,” explains Tom, “but my grandmother wanted to also have an ice cream parlor. Ray found a diner closing in Detroit and bought the countertops for our soda fountain area, and the fountain became half of the business! I wish my Grandma was here to see it!”
“I fell in love with the place,” he says.
And now a fourth generation is being trained to take over and continue the business.
Tom’s nephew Tommy Shimshock, with a civil engineering degree from Purdue University, has worked at Ray’s since 2004 and is the production manager though, he says, smiling, “My title depends on the day.”
On this day, he and co-worker Liam O’Brien and Tom’s nephew, Stephen Shimshock (who has a double-business degree), will be making their vanilla ice cream.
“It happens to be my favorite flavor,” Tom says.
“Nowadays,’’ explains Tom, “the vanilla is like liquid gold. The supplier won’t even ship it anymore. We have to pick it up.”
Each ten-gallon batch uses two-to-three ounces of the precious, pure vanilla, and all of the ice creams are slow-churned to make.
“The equipment is new,” Tommy says. “But the ice cream is made the old-school way. It’s a slow process.”
In spite of the time-consuming production, Ray’s Ice Cream can create 2000 gallons of ice cream per week.
Half gallons of the ice cream can be bought at many area grocery stores, including: Hollywood Market, Holiday Market, Nino Salvaggio’s, Papa Joe’s, and Westborn Market on Woodward. The ice cream at Ray’s Ice Cream can also be hand-packed for take-out sale, and many popular flavors are available freshly packaged.
Ray’s Ice Cream also makes special orders of novelty, molded cordial and ice cream designs for parties, showers and other celebrations and holidays, with many photos of these creations on their website.
Tom’s daughter, Jenna Stevens, who has an art degree – and a love for her father’s business – schedules the many counter helpers who keep the lines of customers moving on hot, summer nights.
Bryce Everly, a pre-med student at the University of Michigan, has worked at Ray’s Ice Cream for three summers, and he enjoys the regular customers and making their orders just the way they like them.
“We get all sorts of great regulars every day,” Bryce says. “One gets a chocolate shake, light on the chocolate; another gets a vanilla shake; another gets a hot fudge sundae but with different types of ice cream each time.”
“And the weird thing is,” he adds, “most of our regulars are normal weight, even coming here daily!”
“All of our customers, and staff, are amazing,” Tom Stevens says. “I’m very excited to be continuing such a great business with another generation of its founding family.”
Ray’s Ice Cream
4233 Coolidge Highway
Royal Oak, MI 48073