For the past 60 years or so, the squat cinderblock building at W. 44th and Bridge has been home to an ice cream shop. Many locals will remember it as Dari Delite, the homey soft-serve joint that was here for years. Most recently, the space housed Ohio City Ice Cream.
By the end of this month, the building will welcome its newest tenant in the form of Mason's Creamery
, a small batch ice cream shop that will both continue this lengthy tradition and radically update it. The building was boarded up like a veritable fortress for decades, with just two small walk-up windows in the façade of the building. Entrepreneurs Helen Qin and Jesse Mason
have uncovered the painted plywood and restored the expansive windows on the front and side of the building.
Known for crafting eclectic flavors like grapefruit sorbet, fig balsamic and strawberry pink peppercorn (they also serve chocolate and vanilla), Qin and Mason have taken an equally unconventional approach to the building, cladding the exterior in dark-stained wood siding, uncovering and polishing the concrete floors, building a brand-new zinc countertop and adding vibrant splashes of color.
Perhaps the best feature of Mason's Creamery will be a sort of hidden "ice cream garden" on the side of the building. The new owners discovered they owned a 60-foot lot west of the building. They plan to clean it up, landscape it and use it for outdoor seating, impromptu picnics and twice-a-month movie nights.
"It's a sea of asphalt right now," says Mason. "This place really needs greening."
The couple also is adding a large patio area bordered by planters and a "living wall" on the side of the building, where herbs like lavender and mint will be grown. There's no drive-through, of course, but there will be a new walk-up window on the east wall. "That way, people with dogs don't have to go inside," Qin says.
Renovating the building has been a challenge, admit the young owners, who are doing much of the work themselves. Mason found himself cutting the front door off of its hinges, because it hadn't been opened in about 40 years and was rusted shut. The interior was crammed with ice cream equipment, much of which has been cleaned up and will be reused.
In addition to the countertop and tables, the shop area will feature a chalkboard wall and French cleats on the walls where art can be hung. Qin's favorite part is the AstroTurf -- added at the last minute to cover up a mistake in the wood paneling -- a creative solution that she says kids will enjoy touching and playing with.
Qin and Mason are transplants from L.A. who fell in love with Cleveland after moving here and decided to start a business. Ice cream has been a great conversation starter. "When we moved here, we didn't know anyone," says Qin, who is originally from Houston. "It's been nice to get to know our customers personally. This has been a great way of getting to know the community."