It’s been a long time since you could walk into a Brookfield business on a hot summer day and get a hand-scooped heap of mint chocolate chip ice cream on a cone. Six years, actually.
But on Aug. 15, that drought ended with the opening of Zoo City Treats, an ice cream parlor/gourmet popcorn store at 3748 Grand Blvd. in downtown Brookfield. Fred Tyler, an entrepreneurial chameleon, said he fulfilled a dream he’s had for years when he opened the doors to his first customers — who were waiting patiently for him to unlock the doors on the first morning in business.
“It’s been very exciting,” said Tyler. “The positive feedback from people has been great.”
It’s been a dozen years since Tyler first contemplated operating a gourmet popcorn store after visiting one in Oak Park. He even bought some equipment and had thoughts of moving to Phoenix to make the dream a reality.
“The timing wasn’t right,” said Tyler, who has owned a half-dozen businesses in Brookfield since the 1970s — from a gas station to a bar (twice) to the quirky Fritz’s Soft Pretzel on Broadway Avenue. Since 1990, Tyler has also worked full time in the real estate business.
He still does that work from an office next door to Zoo City Treats. For 13 years, until 2011, he owned Assist-To-Sell Real Estate in Brookfield.
The timing started falling into place earlier this year when Nest Vintage Modern vacated its storefront next door to the south. That enabled the Past Reflections resale shop, which has been at 3748 Grand Blvd., to move into that space.
Meanwhile, Tyler kept hearing from Brookfield residents who bemoaned the lack of an ice cream place in town.
“I had some equipment [for making popcorn and caramel corn],” said Tyler. “Either I go forward or sell it.”
So Tyler made the leap, converting the former resale clothing shop into a space featuring bright yellow and green walls — you might call them sherbet-colored — as well as freezer cases featuring 18 flavors of ice cream, a counter for popcorn and kettle corn, and an old-fashioned display cabinet full of candy.
There’s no seating yet, but Tyler has located some tables and will be putting them in the store soon, he said.
Tyler said he’s been around Brookfield long enough and has owned enough businesses to know the secret of success in the village.
“You can’t charge premium prices,” he said. “If you provide good service and a good product, people in Brookfield will pay a fair price.”
Right now, Tyler sources his ice cream (his favorite is butter pecan, though mint chocolate chip and strawberry cheesecake are big hits so far with customers) from a Minnesota-based dairy. But he’d like one day to make his own ice cream if things go well.
While the focus is on ice cream right now, as the weather changes Tyler said he’ll begin to focus on different flavors of popcorn and selling gift tins of popcorn during the holidays.
He’s hired a handful of employees, including Cindy Vaile, who first worked for Tyler in the 1970s at the pretzel stand, but family members, including his wife, Debbye, his three children and his son-in-law have all pitched in to launch the shop.
“It was beyond my expectations,” said Tyler of his first week in business.
The store is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Zoo City Treats does accept credit and debit cards.