Whenever Brandon Byrd felt frustrated, he’d turn his thoughts to the ice house.
Like everyone else with a stake in the restaurant game, the owner of Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats has suffered difficulties throughout the novel coronavirus crisis that could feel like a months-long brain freeze — or a daily kick in the teeth. Byrd, in his serene way, chose to view the whole ordeal as a grand test of patience. When the streets downtown emptied of customers who would normally pony up to his tricked-out 1952 Metro van that goes by the name of Gigi, Byrd knew he couldn’t fail. He had to hold on long enough to move Goodies into the 90-year-old ice house he’d bought in Old Town, Alexandria.
“That was my motivation, even during a pandemic and business was not strong; it fell off tremendously,” Byrd says. “If I can survive the pandemic, and I get this open, there’s a reason why I’m here.”
After reinventing his business — delivering his classic Wisconsin-style vanilla custard by the pint, selling whole pies to go, and piloting Gigi into suburbs and apartment complexes in his neat bowtie, newsboy cap, and red suspenders — Byrd is finally opening a walk-up window at his handsomely renovated ice house at 200 Commerce Street this weekend. Goodies will open at noon Saturday, May 29, and sell boxes of its classic, Wisconsin-style vanilla custard until 6 p.m. (or until he sells out).
Byrd makes his custard base with local dairy — he declined to identify his supplier for competitive reasons, but assured Eater it’s from the DMV — and a special blend of cold-extracted vanilla concentrate he’s commissioned from Nielsen-Massey in Illinois. He makes custard every day so the mix doesn’t develop too many ice crystals. Toppings include chocolate sauce, Byrd’s homemade caramel sauce, whipped cream, and other fruits, nuts, and candies. It goes into floats made with Milwaukee-based Sprecher’s sodas and gets sandwiched in between apple cider doughnuts. Byrd uses the same custard base to make the type of banana budding he learned to make from his mom for Sunday suppers after church. That pudding goes into a Johnny B. Goode shake, too. When peach season comes on, Byrd will serve cobblers with a soft crust he places somewhere between cake crumb and a biscuit. Other rotating specials include Byrd’s rum cake, apple crisp, cookies, brownies, and pies like sweet potato, apple, or pecan.
Like the original solid-wood door at the ice house or the 400-pound cast iron sink he installed inside, Byrd was built to last. He’s got entrepreneurship in his blood, going back to a grandfather who grew cotton, then soybeans, on a farm the family still holds in Alabama. His stepfather had a 10-acre junkyard in Redding, California, giving Byrd an appreciation for classic cars and Americana that informs the rockabilly aesthetic at Goodies. His mother, Anita, made her own wine, operated tow trucks with aplomb, and drag-raced funny cars. “I call her Anita Andretti,” Byrd says.
Owning his own building was important to Byrd, a former rap promoter and marketing director who landed his first catering gig for Goodies in 2012. The 42-year-old had been looking for the right place for years, and he found it in 2018, when he bought a place that Alexandria’s historic Mutual Ice Co. constructed in 1931 as one of several substations for an operation that delivered ice by horse and carriage.
Byrd, who is Black, feels the significance of owning property a few blocks away from the Freedom House Museum, a National Historic Landmark that once served as the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. Inside the Mutual Ice Co. station, Byrd says, the ice cutters were African American, too.
“We go from lifting blocks of ice to scooping cups of custard,” Byrd says. “It’s very foretelling in a way. You go from being the laborer to being the landlord.”