Steve’s Ice Cream: Somerville’s Sweet History

Somerville has been going through something of a renaissance lately, especially in the food industry, but residents have been thinking up big ideas for many years. Fluff was invented here (we even have a festival devoted to it), Bertucci’s original location was in Davis Square and the Stop & Shop grocery store chain began in Somerville as the Economy Grocery Store. There also used to be a scoop shop called Steve’s Ice Cream that is said to have pioneered the mix-in, which has been popularized by places like Cold Stone Creamery.

While Somerville doesn’t have a Steve’s anymore, the company continues to thrive in Brooklyn and still uses ingredients made in our city. The original brand was acquired a few years ago and has been relaunched with a focus on local ingredients and gourmet mix-ins. I conducted a Q&A with the new Steve’s president, Forbes Fisher, to find out what the company is up to now …

Elyse: How has Steve’s evolved from when it was started in Somerville to where it is today? 

Forbes Fisher: The original Steve’s was a real pioneer in the realm of super-premium ice cream. It created the mix-in and thus the ice cream niche that came to be dominated by the likes of Ben & Jerry’s and others. The history of Steve’s is really quite impressive and it really makes you wonder why it faded out in the early ’90s. There was no evolution per se to what it is now from what it was. We took a brand that hadn’t been around for 20 odd years and tried to re-imagine it in a way that stayed true to it’s history, but also wasn’t just a retread of the old concept. We wanted Steve’s to be revolutionary again, to push the fold of what people were doing with ice cream. Rather than put you in a time machine back to 1973 we wanted to take the concept of Steve’s and bring it into 2010. Whereas the original Steve’s was the first to use Heath Bar Crunch as a mix-in we now use hand made ricotta cheese from Salvatore BKLYN, or stone ground guajillo chile chocolate from Taza Chocolate. So it is much less of an evolution than a re-imagination of the brand that tries to stay true to it’s history while forging a new path for it.

Elyse: Why was Somerville Steve’s first home? Why is Brooklyn Steve’s home now?

Forbes Fisher: Somerville was the original home of Steve’s because that’s where Steve Herrell happened to live at the time. Much in the same way Brooklyn has become the new home largely out of happenstance that people who really loved it and wanted to relaunch it happened to be located in and around the area; however, it is very lucky that Brooklyn happened to be the place that it was relaunched at this time. There are few other places that offer the abundance of small producers who can provide the high-quality and quite novel mix-ins that we use in our flavors. If it weren’t for that some of our flavor ideas might simply have been relegated to a wish list. One particular flavor that this is evident is our BKLYN Blackout. It is a re-imagination of the old Ebinger’s Blackout Cake in ice cream form. We are only able to do it because we partnered with a wonderful small bakery called Ovenly in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn who can supply us with the dark chocolate stout cake and dark chocolate pudding to actually make the flavor work.

Elyse: How did you come to partner with Taza Chocolate, which is based in Somerville? 

Forbes Fisher: We knew we wanted to do some flavors with chocolate mix-ins so we started to search our local stores and ask our foodie friends for recommendations. We looked at (and tried!) a lot of different chocolates. In the end, we decided to partner with Taza Chocolate because of the great texture and taste that comes from them stone grounding their organic cacao beans. Not to mention, we were pretty excited they were started in the same city as the original Steve’s!

Elyse: You have some very unique products and flavor combinations, how did you come up with them?

Forbes Fisher: It’s a fun job to work at Steve’s! Our small team sits around the table and brainstorms flavors for hours. We get inspiration from cookbooks, restaurants, bars, family dinners and our customers!

Elyse: What flavor is most popular? What is the most surprising flavor/product that people absolutely love?

Forbes Fisher: Our most popular flavor is Salty Caramel. We often do special flavors for events and we have done anything from Avocado and Sriracha to Absinthe and Burnt Sugar, but probably the most surprising flavor that people have really loved is our non-dairy Olive Oil and Pinenut. It has been a real hit at several events and tastings.

Elyse: Do you have any plans to expand back to the Boston area? Can your ice cream be found in any stores near here?

Forbes Fisher: We currently sell our ice cream at Taza Chocolate’s Factory Store as well as Shubie’s in Marble Head. We are currently talking with other retailers and distributors in the region and should have a bigger presence in Boston and the surrounding areas very soon!

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4 Responses to Steve’s Ice Cream: Somerville’s Sweet History

  1. The original Steve’s was on Elm Street, where Posto pizzeria is today. After Steve’s closed, its building was torn down and replaced with the current one, built originally for Carberry’s Bakery.

    After Steve Herrell sold it to Joey Crugnale, the chain rapidly expanded both regionally and eventually nationally. They also began packaging ice cream for supermarket sale. Then the chain collapsed and disappeared — and I don’t really know why.

    The very last Steve’s-branded store, to my knowledge, was at the east end of the Quincy Market building in Boston. The store still exists but has been renamed to Sprinkles.

    Meanwhile, Steve Herrell got back into the ice cream business with a Northampton store called Herrell’s. This too became a regional chain for a while, but one by one all of his Boston-area stores have closed.

    Ron Newman