In October 2021, Dana Salls Cree was set to open the second location of Pretty Cool Ice Cream, her four-year-old pop ice cream shop, in Lincoln Park. She had hired staff. They had made the ice cream. The building inspector had passed. The walk-in freezer had yet to arrive due to pandemic-related equipment delays, but Salls Cree had temporary coolers planned. The final step was to obtain a business license, a process that normally takes three to five business days. Instead, it took seven months.
Now, Pretty Cool Lincoln Park is finally ready to open, for real this time. Salls Cree decided not to make the announcement until they had the commercial license in hand. The store opens this Friday, June 24 at 709 W. Belden Avenue, near DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus.
Salls Cree chose Lincoln Park because so many young children (and also college students) live in the neighborhood. “We want to be where kids grow up and where people make lifelong memories,” she said. “We want to be where you take your kids.” Before starting the process of opening the second store, she had imagined stores all over the city. But now, she says, “we need to open the second store before we start talking about generational dominance.” She assumes that the memory of the pain will one day fade, like childbirth.
Even before the business licensing issues, the new store opening faced the equipment and construction delays that nearly all new businesses have faced since the pandemic began; Salls Cree originally wanted to open last summer. The business license heist, however, was a bureaucratic nightmare that took two lawyers and a sender (a person who knows exactly where to send documents) to unravel. The city demanded new architectural drawings, another round of inspections, settlement of debts by the owners of the buildings (although no one specified which debts; it took four days of forensic accounting to solve this mystery) and a rezoning application. In order to make it through the winter, Salls Cree and his business partner had to take out a disaster loan.
“The hardest part was the stops and the starts and maintaining the motivation,” says Salls Cree now. “Every time you try to move forward, a fly swatter slaps you. It made me think of companies that don’t have the kind of support we have. A friend said the city used to operate on bribes, but once they removed the bribes there was no way to get things done.
After all that, the new Pretty Cool is a small, child-friendly space with bleachers and two built-in tables, so inviting that when the front door is unlocked, passers-by keep coming in for ice cream. It looks a lot like the Logan Square location, except for the color scheme: Salls Cree chose peach and gray walls and blond wood this time around. Kris Olsen, an artist who previously designed packaging for Pretty Cool pops, painted a mural in what Salls Cree describes as “spumoni colors” that depicts ice cream cones and pops playing jazz music, a reflection of Lincoln Park’s past. There is a small outdoor seating area on the sidewalk and a pick up window so the store can still sell pops to the public in case it is rented out for a private party.
All popsicles will still be made at the Logan Square store and driven. Both stores will have the same menu in the form of an illustrated poster designed by Adele Tobin, one of the kitchen staff. There won’t be any store-specific promotions to begin with, but Salls Cree isn’t ruling out the possibility. During Pretty Cool’s brief residency at Fulton Market’s Time Out Market in early 2020, she noticed that her downtown customers had different preferences than in Logan Square: matcha and kombucha flavored pops were huge at Fulton Market while Logan Square loved Chicago Mix, and there was very little overlap between the two.
“I’m interested to know what flavor Lincoln Park will choose for itself,” says Salls Cree. She and her staff will continue to experiment with new flavors and combinations: she notes that several popular flavors, including passion fruit hibiscus, pina colada and caramel horchata crunch, first appeared in as seasonal specialties.
But Salls Cree’s plans to expand into ice cream sandwiches have stalled for now. It’s more important, she says, to keep the second store running, to follow through on her commitments to serve ice cream at local parties and festivals and at Foxtrot Market, and to make sure everyone who visits has the best possible experience. She is also concerned about the rising cost of ingredients and other operating costs. “Watching the margins shrink more and more each week is nerve-wracking,” she says. “But I look customers in the eye and I’m like, ‘How can I charge you $6 for ice cream?'”
But she’s convinced that Lincoln Park will embrace Pretty Cool. “It took us so long, we see it as a long-term commitment to the neighborhood,” she says. She’s also not worried about winter killing her business: “Real Chicagoans eat ice cream 12 months a year.”
Pretty cool ice cream Lincoln Park, 709 W. Belden Avenue, open 1-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 1-10 p.m. Friday, 12-10 p.m. Saturday, 12-9 p.m. Sunday, open Friday 24 June.