Ireland, not exactly known for its ice cream, makes Wilmington true believers | State and Area News

ALLISON BALLARD The (Wilmington) StarNews

WILMINGTON — If there’s a second home for Jeff Hogan, it’s Ballybunion, a seaside town in Ireland. He has visited several times over the past decade, often with his father who eventually bought a house there.

On each visit, he goes to an ice cream shop called Sundaes not far from Ballybunion Beach.

“The ice cream is so good,” he said. “And I just have to go back next year.”

It has become a yearly tradition for him to ask owner Joanna McCarthy if he could open one of her ice cream shops in North Carolina. The UNC-Wilmington graduate has owned many local businesses over the years, from accounting services to a grill in Carolina Beach.

He knew that this ice cream was something special.

But each time he asked, McCarthy said no. It took a few years for the Hogans (business son and neighbor father) to change their minds. Now their partnership is expanding to more locations in North Carolina.

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For starters, Hogan spent weeks training with McCarthy and learning his recipes. She, in turn, traveled to North Carolina to find the right ingredients that would best recreate ice cream.

It’s a little different from a lot of the American versions which have more air for a lighter texture. Celtic Creamery ice cream, on the other hand, is thick, creamy and dense.

Hogan opened Celtic Creamery in 2018, around the time Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast. It wasn’t an easy start, but it’s already a well-reviewed coastal classic.

For some of McCarthy’s classic Irish flavors, there’s also a seasonal menu and Southern flavors. A popular flavor is Irish Butter Pecan, made with Kerrygold butter. The Mint To Be substitutes chocolate cookies for the usual chocolate chips. A bright Cocoa Red Velvet, however, adds shavings for added flavor and texture. For the end-of-year celebrations, they bring out peppermint.

Celtic Creamery also makes everything on-site, from whipped cream to chocolate sauce to the mini donuts that serve as the base for some of their sundaes, like the Surfer Special.

Lately, that success is starting to expand in a new way as Hogan and McCarthy have begun franchising the business. Three new locations are now open, including Surf City, Hendersonville and Smithfield.

“I think we both got so bored during the pandemic, we thought we’d give it a try,” Hogan said.

He also talks with potential franchise owners of potential locations in North Carolina.

“But we try to take it slow because we want to grow in the right direction,” he said.

Hogan and McCarthy are also ideal partners. She is the creative force behind the recipes, ensuring that the ice creams are flavored with European extracts and contain the right amount of fat. The detail-oriented McCarthy is also the one who writes the user manuals.

Hogan’s skills are all about trying to find the right people – to work behind the ice cream counter and those who might be able to open up other successful locations.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that, say, at the Hang 10 Grill, if you tell someone there’s a 10-minute wait for a table, they start getting upset,” did he declare. “But people will be lining up around the corner for ice cream.”

Something about ice cream makes people smile.

“It’s the happiest business I’ve ever owned.”

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