The new Mitchell's Ice Cream
in Ohio City is like Cleveland's version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory in Roald Dahl's famous 1964 children's novel. There are no Oompa Loompas or glass elevator, but there is a giant factory floor where ice cream, sauces and roasted nuts are made, and huge glass walls that will allow visitors to watch the entire delicious process unfold.
The combination store, ice cream factory and HQ has been nearly three years in the making. Founders Mike and Pete Mitchell will open in March, and when they do, you can be sure that Clevelanders will descend upon the place with a frenzy as there's simply little else like it in the region.
Start with the building: the historic Rialto Theatre was built in 1919 as one of the West Side's largest vaudeville venues. It has served a variety of uses over the years, most recently as Club Moda, which was shut down in 2006 because of illegal activity. When the Mitchells bought the building in 2011, there were empty drinks on the bars, everything was painted black and the roof was leaking. Using historic tax credits, the brothers have restored the building's two-story terracotta-and-brick facade and gutted and renovated the interior.
The historic theatre, complete with new skylights and exposed trusses, is now the factory floor -- fitting for a company that has elevated ice cream to something of an art form.
"I thought, 'What would I want this place to be if I was a kid?'" says Mike Mitchell, who has taken the lead on the project. "I designed it for the kid I was... still am."
The building has been sustainably renovated. It features solar panels on the roof, interior lights that automatically dim when natural light is sufficient, and a harvesting system that will reuse rainwater as a source for non-potable water. Similar in design to the Rocky River shop, the interior is rectangular and features a giant electric train that will wind overhead, delighting the kid in all of us.
Mike Mitchell is particularly gleeful when he talks about the old theatre marquee, which now bears a prominent company sign. Light boxes will be placed alongside the entryway that highlight the farmers with whom Mitchell's works.
"The light boxes will provide the same feeling as if you're entering a theatre," adds Mike. "It will animate the front. But our performance is ice cream."
Outside will feature a large side patio along Gould Court, which officially has been closed off to traffic by the city. The original bricks will remain exposed, and the space will feature prominent public art. Mike says the goal is to make it a gathering place for the neighborhood, not just customers.
The ice cream shop will be a proving ground for new flavors and desserts, though Mitchell's is keeping mum on all the details. Mike describes the process as "a way for us to have fun." Guests will be able to take factory tours that include tastings. Two separate rooms, upstairs and downstairs, will function as community spaces that can be used for youth activities, birthday parties and neighborhood events.
Mitchell is excited about being a part of the Ohio City community, which he describes as having "great neighbors and local businesses [and] a lot of family life." Additional partnerships are planned with local businesses like Great Lakes Brewing Co. (what could possibly be better than beer and ice cream?).
The new headquarters will vastly expand Mitchell's production space, a major improvement from the cramped kitchen at the Rocky River store, where they currently make ice cream around the clock.
The Ohio City store represents Mitchell's eighth location.
"This has been one of the thrills of my life, my relationship to this building," says Mike Mitchell. "Ice cream has a place in people's lives and the life of the community that's pretty special."
Source: Mike Mitchell
Writer: Lee Chilcote