On the Record with Valerie Cranden

SYCAMORE – There are a few signs of spring in DeKalb County: snow melting, temperatures warming up and Ollie’s opening for the season.

Ollie’s Frozen Custard, 2290 Oakland Drive in Sycamore, opened on March 1. Spring hours are 1 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For more information and to view the flavor of the day calendar, visit Ollie’s Facebook page.

Owner Valerie Cranden spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about frozen custard and the 2021 season.

Milton: What is your role at Ollie’s?

Cranden: I’m the owner. The previous owner, Bill Jamison, sold the business to me in 2000. I worked for him for about 10 years prior. I started working at Ollie’s in high school. It was a job I really enjoyed. I love establishing friendships with customers and employees through the years. It’s a job I enjoy getting up for every day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Milton: Why the name “Ollie’s?”

Cranden: The previous owner was often told he looked like Ollie – Oliver Hardy from Laurel and Hardy. But that’s maybe before your time. But I liked the name, everyone liked the name, and I didn’t change it when I bought the business. I carried it on.

Milton: What is frozen custard?

Cranden: Frozen custard is at least 10% butterfat and has egg yolks in it. It’s also whipped longer than regular ice cream, which is why it’s more creamy and firm. Freshness is key. Using fresh ingredients makes all the difference.

Milton: Tell me about the different flavors.

Cranden: This year, it will be the first time in Ollie’s history that we will have four flavors on weekends: two flavors of the day on both Saturdays and Saturdays. We always have vanilla and chocolate. Black raspberry and butter pecan are also staples and are very popular flavors. We will offer rum raisin, another of our most-popular flavors, three times this year. I think the variety brings more customers out. They want to try new flavors. … We don’t have any sugar-free options, but our Dole Whip and Italian ice are gluten and dairy free.

Milton: What are your most popular items?

Cranden: Customers love our sundaes, and our turtle sundae is our most popular. They also like our shakes, malts and blasts. We also make specialty pies, which have become very popular.

Milton: Have you added new flavors recently?

Cranden: New flavors we added this year are pink cotton candy and black cherry. Last year, we added Dole Whip, and that has been very popular. We feature two Dole Whip flavors every week. We’ve had customer contests to add new flavors and sundaes, but those were a few years ago. We’re always open to suggestions and ideas, though. We will have a few new items this year. They will be released in April.

Milton: How has the pandemic changed your business?

Cranden: We were closed for six weeks last year at the start of the pandemic. It took some time to obtain a permit for the drive-thru window and have it installed. We’ll offer drive-thru only until the 6-foot social distancing restriction is lifted. We miss seeing our customers walk up. People love to come here to hang out and socialize. We can say “hi” through the car’s window, but there’s definitely more chatting that happens when they walk up.

Milton: What would you say to someone who’s never been to Ollie’s before?

Cranden: I’d say, “Give us a try, I hope you like it and it doesn’t disappoint.” I think the product speaks for itself. We only use high-quality items and have high-quality, friendly service.

Milton: Anything else you’d like to mention?

Cranden: I’m so proud of my employees. They had no drive-thru experience at the start of the pandemic, and they’ve done a fabulous job. I’d also like to thank our loyal customers. We appreciate everyone for their support and business. … Frozen custard is a comfort food. When we open at the beginning of the year, it’s often seen as a sign of spring, that winter’s going away. We’re looking forward to summer and some normalcy soon after the pandemic.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.