Chicago wrestling icon CM Punk ended his seven-year retirement with a surprise appearance last week at United Center. It was a big moment for his fans who saw their hero make his comeback in his hometown arena. Dana Salls Cree isn’t even a wrestling fan, but the owner of Logan Square’s Pretty Cool Ice Cream grew emotional at the end when Punk spoke to the crowd.
“I appreciate everybody here who has waited, so on your way out of the United Center tonight, grab yourself a free ice cream bar on me,” Punk said during his Friday, August 20 appearance.
That night, each of the 15,000 people at the arena received a free chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bar made by Pretty Cool Ice Cream. It was a tremendous publicity boost for the small ice cream shop whose nine-person team worked tirelessly to fulfill its largest order ever.
Punk’s fanbase is certainly passionate. Case in point: The bars are on sale on eBay for $1,000. Bids for empty wrappers start at $39. However, Salls Cree says she has a limited supply of bars available this weekend in Logan Square, so give those auction notifications a rest.
A native of suburban Lockport, Punk retired from pro wrestling in 2014. He’s taken up acting and mixed-martial arts during his respite. But his fanbase clamored for the former star’s return, and he waited for his WWE contract to expire to free him from obligations. Last week, Punk (whose real name is Phil Brooks) could finally give his loyal supporters what they craved while appearing at the All Elite Wresting event at the UC. Punk’s comeback will be official in September when he’s set to wrestle at a match in suburban Hoffman Estates where the ice cream will also be available.
This wasn’t a slick marketing gimmick created by a firm. This all started simply two years ago after a mutual friend introduced Punk, who lives in Chicago, to Salls Cree. Salls Cree, a veteran pastry chef, has worked for revered Chicago restaurants like the Publican and Blackbird, and at other acclaimed spots like Michelin-starred NOMA in Denmark. Salls Cree doesn’t count herself as a wrestling fan, though she jokes that maybe she is now.
While abstaining from alcohol is part of his straight-edge lifestyle (which he also adopts into his wrestling persona), Punk does have a favorite vice: ice cream. For years, Punk wanted to resurrect the old WWE ice cream bars with wrestlers’ pictures on them, and his passion for the confections even led to the creation of a popular T-shirt.
Salls Cree, author of the cookbook, Hello, My Name is Ice Cream, was perfect for the job. The idea for the bars lay dormant until earlier this summer when Punk asked Salls Cree how many bars she could make in one batch for an event he was planning. She said she could make a lot. It turned out Punk needed 15,000 bars.
“I didn’t know what the event was,” Salls Cree says. “I didn’t have any insight into what a grand comeback this was going to be. It was a simple conversation. And then I thought, I hope my team doesn’t kill me.”
Pretty Cool’s team has made batches of 15,000 ice cream bars before, but never all at once. This would have been a challenge even if everything went perfectly. But it was the middle of Pretty Cool’s biggest season, and Punk’s bars took up so much room in the freezer — there wasn’t enough storage for the shop’s regular inventory. Then they discovered that a 500-gallon batch of milk had mold, which set the project back a week, and the walk-in freezer at the shop also broke. Fortunately, Salls Cree found 300 pounds of dry ice at short notice and stuffed and sealed the freezer so nothing was lost. However, the events turned the kitchen into “a literal death trap.”
Death traps aside, the entire staff refused to tap out. The front of the house tagged in to help dip and package the ice cream bars by hand. Finally, Lincoln Park food incubator and grocer Local Foods lent Pretty Cool its delivery truck to transport all the bars to the United Center.
“I’d say it was a miracle,” Salls Cree says, “But ‘miracle’ implies something that happens out of your control. This was hard work and team effort.”
Pretty Cool made 500 extra bars to sell at the shop this weekend and are delivering 4,000 more to the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates where Punk will be appearing in September 3 at AEW Rampage. But Cree has no plans to make any more — fans won’t find the treats at Foxtrot stores alongside Pretty Cool’s other varieties.
“I would really like all those people who were in the arena when he gifted them ice cream to have something that existed in that moment,” she says. “I didn’t know how much meaning that moment would have. I want to preserve that for Punk and his fans.”
As far as Salls Cree knows, Punk hasn’t had any of the ice cream himself.
“He hand-wrote a check out of his own account,” she says. “We have some at the shop, and he can have as much as he wants. I offered when he came into the shop, but he said he was in training.”