Monday, November 9, 2009

Buck's Ice Cream Place celebrates 20 years at MU

Rick Linhardt, who manages Buck's Ice Cream Place at MU, seldom sees an unhappy customer. "Ice cream is a happy food," Linhardt said. "People almost always have a smile on their face when they walk into the store."

On Thursday, Buck's celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the public is invited to come over for ice cream samples starting at 3:30. But ice cream making at MU has a much longer history. The space now occupied by Buck's, on the south side of Eckles Hall, used to be Eckles Hall Ice Cream.

From the 1920s until 1972, it doubled as a student-training laboratory and an income stream for the dairy program. Housing the dairy science department as well, Eckles Hall had a retail store that sold butter, milk and cheese, according to information compiled by Robert Marshall, an Arbuckle professor emeritus at MU. The department also supplied MU cafeterias with dairy products.

Eckles was closed in 1972 because of financial reasons. Then, in 1989, a donation from Ruth and Wendell Arbuckle brought ice cream and ice cream research back to MU. The store was named in honor of Wendell Arbuckle, who went by the nickname of "Buck."

Over the years, Buck’s has contributed to researching and creating ice cream. The signature flavor is Tiger Stripe — French vanilla ice cream with a dark chocolate stripe. First made in 1992, it's now served at Tiger Walk, at which incoming freshman walk through the columns on Francis Quadrangle to signify the start of their university careers. Several times a year, the flavor is shipped to Washington, D.C., to Congress, Linhardt said.

An ice-cream highlight in Marshall's life was taking Buck’s products on the road to the Missouri State Fair in the early 1990s and showcasing them at Union Station in St. Louis.

As Buck’s has continued to expand, so has its technology. A few years after Buck’s opened, Ruth Arbuckle donated $35,000 for a new walk-in freezer and refrigerator, which prevented the growth of ice crystals that occur when temperatures are too high or low. Marshall said that has improved the quality of the ice cream. Last year, a new continuous freezer was purchased for more than $50,000; it produces up to 100 gallons per hour versus the old model, which produced 30 gallons an hour.

The only thing that announces the shop's presence is a yellow awning above the entrance with "Buck's Ice Cream Place" scrawled across it. Just bigger than a dorm room, Buck's has four tables and a counter where customers buy their ice cream. A black and white photo of Wendell Arbuckle hangs on the wall next to a vintage cream separator from the early 1900s. The curious can peek through a large window into the back to see where the ice cream is made.

Flavors recently offered include butter pecan, pumpkin pie and rocky road. A single scoop costs $1.50, with two scoops for $2. A quart is $3, but Tiger Stripe is 50 cents more. A three-gallon tub of Tiger Stripe costs $35, and all other three-gallon tubs cost $33.

Students from the food science department at MU make ice cream at Buck’s. Among them is junior Jessica Roland. Her aunt used to work at Buck's, so her family has been involved with the store and Tiger Stripe ice cream for quite some time.

"I really enjoy working here," Roland said. "I had always been around Tiger Stripe, and now I get to make it in the back."

It's her favorite flavor. "I really like it when it is fresh out of the machine — it's super good," she said.

Weekdays bring in the most customers, while weekends and football game days are slowest, Roland said. An ESPN camera crew was there last Thursday to get footage for the nationally televised Missouri-Nebraska game; a few seconds were used.

For Linhardt, who has been at Buck's for 19 years, 18 of them as manager, the Buck's anniversary prompts memories of and appreciation for the many people who've worked in the shop or had a hand in supporting it.

“Thinking about all the students that have worked for me over the years is quite a reflection for me," he said.


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