PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC (WMBF) - A mother-daughter duo who loved to vacation in the Grand Strand decided to give up what they had in Maryland, pack up and move for a dream.
Angela Gilbert and her mother Debbie Gilbert settled on a fixer-upper shop that used to be a travel agency and jewelry store. The Gilbert family renovated it on their own, and now it’s a must-stop dessert shop.
“Well we kind of always wanted to do something like have a little shop of some sort,” Angela said.
“Pawleys is just the perfect little beach town, we love it here. It’s small town, it’s community. Our customers that come in are just great, and supported us from day one,” Debbie said.
The duo owns Gilbert’s Ice Cream on Ocean Highway in Pawleys Island. They opened shop in May 2017, and have tripled their annual sales since, they said.
Angela vacationed with her parents and three sisters in the Myrtle Beach area growing up.
When she decided to give up teaching in Maryland, and her mother retired from the state’s health department, they thought it was time to follow their dream of having a shop somewhere in the Grand Strand.
They renovated a little shop and turned it into Pawleys Island beach chic perfection, with homey goodness reflecting the small-batch, homemade 21 flavors of ever-changing ice creams you’ll find at the store.
Angela and Debbie attended “scoop school” in Missouri to learn the basics of ice cream making.
Then, they bought the top-of-the-line ice cream making machine, an Emery Thompson, to mix their concoctions.
“We’ve perfected our main recipes. So now we’re just experimenting with what can you put in to make it even better? What can we make that stands out and is different and is fun?” Debbie explained. “We make our ice cream here every single day. So it’s fresh, it’s small batch and we can do whatever really.”
Debbie said her place is in the back, surrounded by her machine, ingredients and a freezer stacked with ice creams waiting to be added to the 21 flavor selection on the floor. Angela said you can consistently expect just seven flavors to be at Gilbert’s every time you visit.
“Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, Butter pecan, pralines and cream, coffee, cotton candy, and mint chip,” Angela said, although that was just eight.
“We’ve made over 150 flavors so far, and we’ve only been open for two years,” Angela said.
Both Angela and Debbie explained they write down their recipes to ensure its taste the next time it’s made. Their back kitchen is like a research lab, where they create, taste and re-create to make the perfect mix.
They said their ‘Choc of the Bay’ is their craziest flavor so far, and their ‘Candy Corn’ is one they won’t be doing again. The ‘Southern Butter Pecan’ is one of the most popular, and so is ‘Cookie Monster’ and ‘Cotton Candy,’ they said.
Another secret to the Gilberts’ success is almost everything in each ice cream is homemade.
“We like to make real cake, we want to make our own cookies, we’ll make a pie ice cream and we actually make the pies and put them in there," Debbie said as Angela dumped crushed graham cracker into a base ice cream to create a graham cracker ice cream for their ‘S’mores’ flavor.
Debbie handmade the pineapple upside down cakes that went into their self-churned pineapple upside down ice cream.
Angela said it’s the families and the children that really make the job worth it.
“I think it’s funny when a lot of them come in and they expect their favorite flavor to be here. ‘Do you have cotton candy today? Do you have cookie monster? When is this one coming back?’ It’s funny because some of them will come up with ideas and flavors that they like and when we make it in they come in and they see it and it’s there, they feel like a celebrity because we made that flavor," Angela said.
At the rate of their current growth, the Gilberts said a second store isn’t out of the question. They’re open seven days a week and enjoying the new stores that have opened shop around them since they opened two years ago.
Angela is one of four of the Gilbert girls, and the family said the other daughters like to come down to enjoy the ice cream making process.
“I think that’s going to be the most rewarding for me. Just to see it passed on and hopefully it’ll be around for a long time," Debbie said with a smile.
“What makes me feel really happy is like seeing faces come back every summer. The same families will be gone for a whole year, and they come back, and they’re like, ‘We couldn’t wait to get down here, we couldn’t wait to get to your shop. It’s part of our vacation now. It’s a tradition.' I think that makes us really super special, and saying our locals come in all the time, especially because they keep us going in the winter,” the duo said.