What’s the secret to serving the best ice cream in Bethesda (and possibly all of D.C.)?
Having a freezer truck drive it in, direct from Ohio.
Ice cream aficionados likely know that Cincinnati is home to Graeter’s, producer of the small batch, French pot ice cream that TV personality Oprah Winfrey famously declared “the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.”
Patty and Tom Craver are very familiar with the Graeter’s experience. Tom grew up in Cincinnati, and Patty was accustomed to sampling the ice cream during visits to see his family. The husband and wife team wanted to open up a sweets shop in Bethesda, Md., and they wanted a way to distinguish themselves. “There’s something about Graeter’s,” Patty said. “If you like ice cream, it’s one of the best options available.”
The Cravers began exploring how to transport the 2.5 gallon tubs of Graeter’s ice cream from Cincinnati. Patty reached out to Brad Liermann, the owner of The Wayne Coffee & Ice Cream Bar in the Philadelphia area, the closest location that served scooped Graeter’s ice cream (Whole Foods Market and other local grocery stores now carry Graeter’s pints). For over two years Liermann had received Graeter’s via mail, but the shipping cost was high and the dry ice, styrofoam and cardboard that accompanied each shipment was cumbersome to dispose of.
Liermann decided, instead, to purchase a freezer truck and make the 10 hour trip from the Philadelphia suburbs to Cincinnati to pick up the ice cream. The Cravers spotted a partnership opportunity. Now, for their monthly ice cream shipment, someone from Liermann’s team swings by Bethesda.
“He is now my distributor,” Craver said. “It’s a good deal for him too. Win-win-win. And Graeter’s loves having us here.”
Henry’s Sweet Retreat opened in October 2016 on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda. The store is named for Tom’s late father, a lifelong ice cream fan. Even in winter, it didn’t take long for the Graeter’s fans to come in.
“We’ve definitely had a ton of Ohio people,” Craver said. “Customers say, ‘I can’t believe you have Graeter’s … I had to come in.’” Some share memories about being introduced to Graeter’s by relatives, while others mention having previously received it as a gift (Graeter’s ships anywhere in the United States). “We are working on converting as many people as we possibly can to be Graeter’s fans,” Craver said.
Just like in Ohio the signature black raspberry chocolate chip is the most popular flavor, though Craver says they sell a lot of the peanut-butter laden Buckeye Blitz and mocha chocolate chip. Vanilla remains the most popular filling for the house-made ice cream cookie sandwiches. Craver brings in seasonal flavors, such as cinnamon and peppermint, and said she also takes requests; her next shipment will include coconut chip, which customers have asked about.
Henry’s Sweet Retreat also deals in house-made pop tarts (featured on the cover of the January issue of Bethesda Magazine), baked goods, chocolates, fudge, candies, sundaes and milkshakes.
Even with all the available treats, Craver feels the scooped ice cream is central to Henry’s mission. She said her three children, ages 21, 19 and almost 17, grew up going to the Baskin Robbins in Bethesda, “back when Baskin Robbins had better ice cream.” (It has since closed.)
“Everyone has a sweet tooth,” Craver explained. “You can be 3 or 93 and you can like ice cream. We get people of all ages, it’s really nice.“