‘Pomona A to Z’: I is for Ice Cream

[This one was not only fun, it was delicious. Dr. Bob’s, a premium ice cream business, has been written up all over and it’s based in good ol’ Pomona. I’m not sure if the ice cream is still sold in downtown Upland, but it’s still sold at the county fair each fall, as well as at finer restaurants.

The only other update is that one of the runnerups, the Indian Hill Cinemas, has closed, leaving Pomona without a single movie theater.

This column was originally published Sept. 12, 2004.]

You’ll scream, because Pomona’s I is for ice cream

My series “Pomona A to Z” continues to inch along. With the letter H last week, I imagine it’s time for I, isn’t it?

It is. Now, call me an idealist if you must, but Pomona’s interest should be illustrated. So consult this idiosyncratic itinerary of I candidates:

* I could be for Indian Hill Cinemas, the valley’s only independently owned theater. The $4 matinees revive memories of decades past, and the 1970s decor doesn’t hurt either.

* Indoor Swap Meet, the place to go for inexpensive items.

* Islamic education, specifically, the City of Knowledge School, a K-12 academy that earlier this year produced a student with a 1600 SAT score.

* Indians who once roamed the Ganesha Hills.

* Indian Hill Boulevard, the most ethnic, intriguing stretch of which stops at the Claremont border.

Impressive! But before you get impatient, let me identify my choice: I is for ice cream. Namely, the plant on the Pomona fairgrounds where an exclusive brand of ice cream is made.

There, Bob Small cranks out Dr. Bob’s HandCrafted IceCreams, a premium label sold at upscale markets and restaurants throughout California, besides delighting fairgoers.

At $3.50 for a single-scoop cone, Small’s ice cream won’t be mistaken for a supermarket brand.

“We’re at the high end,” Small told me with pride. “We’re always the highest priced at the retail market.”

Small, incidentally, isn’t a medical doctor — he has a doctorate in business — but he’s got the cure for what ails you, and you don’t even need a prescription.

A professor who teaches wine, beer and spirits courses in Cal Poly Pomona’s hospitality school, Small started Dr. Bob’s in 1999 with friend Bill Baldwin as “kind of a lark.”

Small develops the recipes, using premium ingredients like Scharffen Berger chocolates and real vanilla for flavors that are less sweet but more intense than most ice creams.

Among his flavors: Peach, Fig, Black Raspberry, Vanilla Peanut Butter Chunk and Brown Sugar Pecan. Dr. Bob’s is defined by its chocolates, including The Works: dark chocolate ice cream spiked with three types of chips.

The top seller is still vanilla.

Dr. Bob’s is a minimum 16 percent butterfat — another reason four out of five doctors don’t recommend it — and is dense, too. It’s about 35 percent air, compared to a startling 50 percent in most major brands.

“The less air, the more ice cream there is, and the more dense and rich the product will taste,” Small said.

Dreams of a retail empire stopped at a single store in downtown Upland, but Small’s wholesale business is booming. In 2003 he sold the equivalent of 30,000 gallons.

Dr. Bob’s — see drbobsicecream.com — is sold in Gelson’s supermarkets and scooped locally in the Sycamore Inn, Walter’s, Spaggi’s, The Press, Pizza N’ Such and the Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. You can buy it by the pint at Wolfe’s Market and Cal Poly’s Farm Store.

It’s been featured on the Food Channel and just last month in Sunset and Bon Appetit magazines. Darn, I got scooped.

The Pomona plant opened in 2002 at the fair’s invitation. Located across from the livestock barn, the plant does retail sales during fairtime — now through Sept. 26 — and last fair served more than 15,000 customers.

So how does Dr. Bob’s crew make ice cream? Small let me behind the scenes to watch the production of two tubs of a popular flavor: Strawberry, Sour Cream and Brown Sugar.

A local dairy combines the cream and sugar to his specifications. At the plant, ice cream maker Jorge Morales put it in a 20-quart freezer for 10 minutes to thicken along with sour cream.

What came out was smooth and silky, if only partly finished. After a taste, I told Small he could do well marketing that.

“Yeah, we could,” he agreed. “A sour cream ice cream. It could go with certain desserts.”

Morales turned the spigot and half-filled two 2.5-gallon tubs with the mixture. He spooned in strawberry compote and cupfuls of brown sugar, stirred with a spatula, topped off the tubs with more mix, compote and brown sugar and stirred again.

Somehow I can’t see Ben or Jerry doing it this way.

Smoothing the surface, Morales covered the tubs and put them in a minus-40 freezer to harden overnight.

The ice cream comes out so hard, “it’s like a deadly weapon,” Small joked. It’s then tempered in a minus-20 freezer, the temperature at which it’s sold.

I didn’t have 24 hours to wait, so Small uncapped a Cappuccino Crunch, The Works and Brown Sugar Pecan for samples.

Just what the doctor ordered.

(David Allen, M.D. (doctor of mirth), writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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  • Kathy Ferguson

    Dr. Bob’s IS good ice cream, but I’m partial to Bert and Rocky’s.

    [I’m a fan too. — DA]