For some, retirement means quitting the rat race altogether, but for Eddie and Gwen Tharbs, it means using a family recipe handed down for generations to open the Ice Cream Barrel at 8905 Cermak Road in North Riverside later this month.
Referring to her husband as an entrepreneur from a family of entrepreneurs, Gwen Tharbs said their prior food service experience came from running restaurants in Chicago and Rhode Island and making and selling ice cream from a stand in various park locations in Chicago in 1999 and 2000.
She refers to the ice cream shop as their “retirement plan,” noting that her husband needed something with less stress after years of self-employment and working in the corporate world. But Eddie Tharbs, who earned two master’s degrees, won’t be kicking back and relaxing.
“You can’t keep an entrepreneur caged,” said Gwen, who previously worked in customer service in a corporate setting.
They will be serving ice cream “homemade” on premises, using a recipe from Eddie’s maternal grandmother. It will be all natural with no preservatives.
Gwen compared Ice Cream Barrel’s product to Blue Bell ice cream, which she said is popular in Texas and other Southern states.
In addition to serving ice cream in a variety of flavors, their shop will offer cakes, cobblers and pies to be served with — of course — ice cream as an ice cream medley.
“We want to give our customers an ice cream experience,” Gwen said. “We want to pull customers from all walks of life, all races and all ethnicities.”
The shop will feature tables and chairs inside and outside with the exterior seating shaded by an awning.
Although they have been away for 15 years, the last eight in Minnesota, Gwen said she and her husband consider Chicago to be their home. They started testing their ice cream in September, she said, while they were still in Minnesota and relocated to the Chicago area in March. Testing involved creating different flavors, freezing the ice cream and assessing the taste, texture and color.
According to Gwen, texture is important.
“Once it freezes, ice cream can be hard with an icy texture,” she said. “We want ours to be scoopable, like the ice cream you buy in the store.”
She and her husband looked at various areas before deciding on North Riverside, noting that it did “take a while.”
Their decision was supported by their dealings with village officials.
“North Riverside has really wonderful people to work with,” she said. “It has been a pleasure working with them.”
Although they are renting the location, Gwen noted the building is for sale and they might consider buying it and expanding into a space in the back of the building. She also said they might eventually sell ice cream in stores “if we work at this and get it perfected.”
Those two possibilities, however, are well down the road.