Chocolate Shoppe nearly doubles plant’s size with $5 million expansion

The flavors include Raspberry Rhapsody, Mackinac Island Fudge, Lemon Poppy Seed and Blue Moon.

Fat Elvis features banana ice cream, peanut butter ripple and chocolate chips, while Munchie Madness is cake batter ice cream swirled with salted caramel ripple and peppered with Oreos, M&M pieces and peanut butter cups.

Regardless of the more than 100 diet-busting flavors produced at the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co., the base of each concoction begins in stainless steel tanks recently installed as part of a $5 million expansion that has nearly doubled the size of the company’s facility at 2221 Daniels St. on Madison’s East Side.



Chocolate Shoppe

Chris Wiza prepares to add ingredients into tanks that produce a base ice cream mix at the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co.’s new mix plant facility. The mix plant, adjacent to the ice cream manufacturing plant on Daniels Street, is part of a $5 million expansion that means the company will no longer rely on other companies to make its mix.



The Chocolate Shoppe, this year celebrating its 60th year, has always had its own formula for its base mix, which is largely cream, sugar and a few other ingredients. But the mix had been made by other manufacturers like the Galloway Co. in Neenah and Schoep’s Ice Cream in Madison. Those companies would then ship the mix to the Chocolate Shoppe plant where the thin, shake-like mixture would be turned into scores of flavors, packaged, frozen and then trucked to Chocolate Shoppe stores, Madison-area grocery retailers and around 250 ice cream shops around the country.

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The 27,000-square-foot expansion, which includes new corporate offices, a massive freezer and cooler, a warehouse and an indoor dock for tanker trucks, is designed to help Chocolate Shoppe continue its growth as the brand expands throughout the country. The effort is being bolstered by Sassy Cow Creamery near Columbus, which recently began supplying the ice cream company with milk two to three times a week and will allow Chocolate Shoppe to better tell its locally focused story.



Chocolate Shoppe

Dave Deadman, CEO of Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co., shows off a cup of freshly made ice cream mix. The mix is a base for the more than 100 flavors.



“It’s so close. The timeline from when it comes out of the cow to when it’s processed into ice cream could be as little as a day,” said CEO David Deadman, whose parents founded the ice cream company in 1962. “We’re really going to be able to promote that. And that’s really cool.”

The Chocolate Shoppe is most visible through its stores. They include company-owned shops on Atwoood Avenue, Fordem Avenue, at Sequoya Commons on Midvale Boulevard and on State Street, where that store has been a fixture since 1964. Others in the Madison area are owned by Andy Lanz, whose shops include those on Cottage Grove Road, Monroe Street and in Fitchburg at 2685 Research Park Drive.



Chocolate Shoppe

Chocolate ice cream fills pint-size containers at the company’s manufacturing plant. The Chocolate Shoppe produces about 1 million gallons of ice cream a year.



But the manufacturing plant is the heart of the operation. It makes more than 1 million gallons of ice cream a year under the Chocolate Shoppe brand and for other private labels and employs about 110 people. One of those is Eric Thomsen, whose family owned Schoep’s Ice Cream Co. in Madison from 1938 to 2020. Thomsen began working at his family’s plant on Helena Street when he was young and spent years with the company after college. His duties included making the mix for Chocolate Shoppe. Thomsen joined Chocolate Shoppe in February 2020 and now oversees manufacturing.



Chocolate Shoppe

Eric Thomsen adjusts the settings on an ice cream manufacturing machine at Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream’s manufacturing plant. Thomsen joined the company in 2020 after spending years working at Schoep’s Ice Cream, a company owned by his family from 1938 to 2020.



“I’ve known the Deadmans for a very long time so it was an easy transaction to make. It’s kind of a perfect situation for both us,” Thomsen, 58, said. “It’s interesting because this is a younger company and I think my experience fits in well here and will help them take the next step to becoming a bigger company, growing and developing. I think it’s got huge potential. We’re continuing to grow our brand and we’re one of the go-to companies for the super premium ice cream companies that need product made. We strive to be the best and it’s working out.”

Chocolate Shoppe is one of Madison’s beloved brands, much like Ian’s Pizza, Mickies Dairy Bar, University Book Store, the Plaza Tavern, Willy Street Co-op and Bucky Badger.



Chocolate Shoppe

Chuck Deadman Sr., middle, founded the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. with his wife, Nancy, in 1962. His sons, Chuck Deadman Jr., left, and Dave Deadman, now lead the company.



60 years

The Chocolate Shoppe story began in 1962, when Chuck and Nancy Deadman opened a Chocolate House candy store at Monona Drive and Cottage Grove Road. The couple began making ice cream in the back of the shop as a way to boost sales. A year later, they opened additional shops in Milwaukee and Rockford, and moved manufacturing to a basement facility in a building that is now home to McCormick Lumber on Milwaukee Street.

The Deadmans’ son, Chuck Jr., joined the company in 1976, and three years later the family built a new facility on Daniels Street in order to keep up with demand. The first batch of Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream was released in 2001, vegan options debuted in 2002 and by 2013, Chocolate Shoppe products could be found in 26 states.

Chuck Deadman Sr., 87, still comes to the plant each day. Last week, he scoured the plant with Chuck Jr. repairing leaking pipes.

“We use a lot of water here,” Chuck Sr. said. “You’ve got to do something. You just can’t sit home.”



Chocolate Shoppe

Eric Thomsen, left, and Dave Deadman show off the new storage freezer that is part of the $5 million expansion at Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. The freezer holds 85 different types of ingredients used to make ice cream. 



His wife, Nancy, 85, has a similar approach. She comes in three times a week to sign invoices and keep up with office news.

And with the expansion, there could be more news to track.

Broader reach

Chocolate Shoppe has a distributor in Florida and in the next five to 10 years could have more than 400 shops using its ice cream. A further boost in revenues and production could come from other ice cream companies that contract with Chocolate Shoppe to make their ice cream. At the moment, about 30% of production at the plant is for other companies, but that could increase to 40%, Dave Deadman said.



Chocolate Shoppe

Tom Burke adds food coloring to a batch of pink peppermint ice cream.



The company, which is growing about 10% each year, has no plans to open more of its own shops or sell its products in grocery stores outside of Madison. The lone exception is the Metcalfe’s Market in Wauwatosa, which is a Madison-based retailer.

“We don’t want to be in grocery stores because we want our independent ice cream stores to have what we feel is something special,” Deadman said. “If you want our ice cream, you need to go to a shop.”



Chocolate Shoppe

A forklift driver moves a pallet of ice cream while working in one of the freezers.



Years of planning

The expansion project, based solely on growth within the Chocolate Shoppe brands of ice cream, has been thought about for years, but it was the companies making its mix that encouraged the Deadmans to move forward with the construction of the mix plant following multiple additions to the manufacturing plant over the years. The project included tanks and piping from Darlington Dairy Supply and the construction of a freezer and cooler, each 1,600 square feet, to store ingredients. There’s also a towering dry warehouse to store items and ingredients at room temperature.

“The expense is considerable but when you get to a certain level it pays for itself, almost,” Chuck Deadman Jr. said with a chuckle.

For Dave Deadman, he thought his career arc would be in finance.



Chocolate Shoppe

Dave Deadman describes the process of making the base ice cream mix.



In high school and college he worked in the ice cream plant, which included stints in the minus 20-degree ice cream storage freezer, and did deliveries. He entered the aeronautical program at UW-Madison, but then went into the business school to study accounting and finance. After graduating he worked for Price Waterhouse in New York and then transferred to Chicago to be closer to family. In the early 1990s, as the company began to grow, he left his job to work in the family business, only he thought it would be only for a year or so.

“It really worked out great,” Deadman said. “I didn’t think I’d stay here, but I’m having a lot of fun.”

Photos: The Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek

Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

The Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek opened in 1969 as the Gobbler Supper Club, a restaurant and nightclub that drew customers from around the region. The building was designed by famed architect Helmut Ajango.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

The remodel of the former Gobbler Supper Club added a stage and high-end sound and light systems. The venue drew well-known country acts from around the country, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 death of owner Dan Manesis forced the business to close. It’s now for sale for $1.6 million.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Artifacts and memorabilia from the early days of the Gobbler Supper Club are displayed in a case at what is now The Gobbler Theater.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

The Gobbler Theater features 405 seats. The farthest seat from the stage is just 55 feet away.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

A reminder of the hip past of The Gobbler is in the basement, where art deco wallpaper covers the walls of a hallway and purple shag carpeting surrounds a non-working pay phone.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Music artifacts share a curtain divider in the employee lounge in the lower lever of the Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

One of two artist lounges in the lower level of The Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

A mural painted in one of the signature windows of the Gobbler Theater echoes its performance history in Johnson Creek.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

A cooler at The Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek remains operational and fully stocked, even though there hasn’t been a show at the facility for more than two years.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Dave Ferron, a commercial real estate broker with Cushman & Wakefield Boerke, explores the signature rotating bar of The Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek. Constructed in 1969, the former supper club underwent a more than $2.4 million renovation to transform the building into a music venue. The property is now for sale after its owner died.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Dave Ferron, a commercial real estate broker with Cushman & Wakefield Boerke, views an employee gathering space in the lower level of the Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

The former Gobbler Supper Club in Johnson Creek has been transformed into the 405-seat Gobbler Theater. Dan Manesis, who purchased the building last year, has spent nearly $2 million on upgrades in an effort to attract rock, country and Christian rock bands to the venue. The first show, however, will be free and held Thursday by the concert and jazz bands and choir from Johnson Creek High School.



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Dan Manesis walks through the basement hallway of his Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek, but has no plans to remove the Art Deco foil wallpaper as a way to retain the building’s history. Manesis would like to renovate a large banquet space in the basement to be used for meetings and parties.



Gobbler0028MPKe-12032015152757

Gobbler0028MPKe-12032015152757

Dan Manesis describes the upgrades and updates he had done at his Gobbler Theater, scheduled to open this month, in Johnson Creek, Wis., Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. M.P. KING — State Journal



Gobbler Theater

Gobbler Theater

Dan Manesis, seen here in 2014, purchased the property that formerly housed the Gobbler Supper Club in Johnson Creek and spent more than $2.4 million to convert the 1969 building into The Gobbler Theater. Manesis died in 2021, and the property is now for sale.



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