While the University of Connecticut builds its downtown Hartford campus, a local barbecue business prepares to sell UConn’s iconic Dairy Bar ice cream just across the street.
Bear’s Smokehouse Barbecue is the official barbecue of the UConn Huskies and the only business licensed to sell Dairy Bar ice cream outside of Storrs. The restaurant is building a new location in Hartford’s Front Street Plaza just across the street from the new campus.
“Allowing the sale of UConn ice cream there is a good way for us to start creating a UConn presence in downtown Hartford even before the campus opens, at no cost to the university,” university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.
Co-owner Cheryl McDonald, who runs the business with her husband Jamie “the Bear” McDonald (a former competitive eater), said she feels a personal connection to the Dairy Bar. She remembers eating its ice cream at a local business when she was a kid in Windsor Locks.
“I love ice cream,” Ms. McDonald said. “When we opened downtown Hartford, I said to my husband, ‘You get to sell barbecue. You get to do what you loved as a kid. I loved ice cream.’ We need to sell ice cream, but if we’re going to sell ice cream we’re going to sell local ice cream.”
McDonald said she met UConn President Susan Herbst last September at a fundraiser for Riverfront Recapture, a non-profit based in Hartford. She said she was giving out samples when Herbst approached her.
“(Herbst) was like, ‘If you guys ever came out that way the students would love it in Storrs.’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, well I would love to serve your ice cream! Wouldn’t it be fantastic for your students to have UConn ice cream (at Bear’s).’ And that was how it happened. She helped facilitate that,” McDonald said.
Bear’s currently has two locations, one in Windsor and one in Hartford on Arch Street. In addition to the Front Plaza project, Bear’s is expanding into Hartford Union Station, building a takeout-exclusive location in South Windsor and is also expected to start vending at the Yard Goats’ Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford during this baseball season.
Bear’s also vends at the XL Center, Gampel Pavilion and Rentschler Field Stadium McDonald said.
“The way that the gods kind of lined this all up, things came in phases and were presented to us as opportunities and we jumped on them,” McDonald said. “But permitting and construction have put it that they’re all happening at the same time.”
At Union Station, Bear’s will take over two old ticketing stations. One will sell small meals, appetizers and craft beers McDonald said. The other will focus on Dairy Bar ice cream.
“That’s for folks that want to pop over for lunch or are coming over for a game,” McDonald said. “And that’s where fastrack and busing are going to expand, so that’s going to be a nice bustling area.”
The university has no current plans to expand sale of its ice cream to other vendors. Spokesperson Reitz said it has been successful at Bear’s.
“We know that rollout was very well received, and want to work with our staff here on campus to see how it goes for a period of time before we commit to any additional opportunities,” Reitz said.
McDonald said she’s enjoyed selling the ice cream. She and her husband particularly like the salted caramel and black raspberry flavors.
“Pretty soon, what I want to do is come up with a Bear’s one,” she laughed. “There’s Husky Tracks, we’re going to have Bear’s Tracks. That’ll be our next big push.”
Chris McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.