In October 2021, Dana Salls Cree was all ready to open the second location of Pretty Cool Ice Cream, her four-year-old ice cream pop shop, in Lincoln Park. She’d hired staff. They’d made the ice cream. The building inspector had come through. The walk-in freezer had not yet arrived due to pandemic-related equipment delays, but Salls Cree had arranged for temporary coolers. The final step was to get a business license, a process that normally takes three to five business days. Instead, it took seven months.
Now, Pretty Cool Lincoln Park is finally ready to open, for real this time. Salls Cree decided not to make the announcement until she actually had the business license in hand. The store opens this Friday, June 24, at 709 W. Belden Avenue, near DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus.
Salls Cree had chosen Lincoln Park because so many young children (and also college students) live in the neighborhood. “We want to be where kids are growing up and people are making lifelong memories,” she said. “We want to be the place you take your kids.” Before she began the process of opening the second shop, she had envisioned stores all over the city. But now, she says, “we have to get the second shop open before we start talking about generational dominance.” She assumes the memory of the pain will someday fade, like childbirth.
Even before the issues with the business license, the opening of the new store faced the equipment and construction delays that nearly every new business has had to deal with since the start of the pandemic; Salls Cree had originally wanted to open last summer. The business license holdup, however, was a bureaucratic nightmare that took two lawyers and an expeditor (a person who knows exactly where to send the paperwork) to untangle. The city required new architectural drawings, another series of inspections, the settling of debts by the building’s landlords (though no one specified which debts; it took four days of forensic accounting to solve that mystery), and a rezoning application. In order to get through the winter, Salls Cree and her business partner had to take out a disaster loan.
“The hardest part was the stop and go and keeping yourself motivated,” Salls Cree says now. “Every time you try to move froward, a fly swatter slaps you down. It made me think about the businesses that don’t have the kind of support we have. A friend said that the city used to run on bribes, but once they took the bribes away, there was no longer a pathway to getting things done.”
After all that, the new Pretty Cool is a small, kid-friendly space with bleacher seating and two built-in tables, so inviting that when the front door is unlocked, passersby keep walking in to request ice cream. It looks much like the Logan Square location, except for the color scheme: Salls Cree chose peach and gray walls and blond wood this time around. Kris Olsen, an artist who previously designed packaging for Pretty Cool pops, painted a mural in what Salls Cree describes as “spumoni colors” that depicts ice cream cones and pops playing jazz music, a reflection of Lincoln Park’s past. There’s a small outdoor seating area on the sidewalk, and a pick-up window so the store can still sell pops to the public in case it’s rented out for a private party.
All the ice cream pops will still be made at the Logan Square shop and driven over. The two stores will have the same menu in the form of an illustrated poster drawn by Adele Tobin, one of the kitchen employees. There won’t be any store-specific specials to start off, but Salls Cree isn’t ruling out the possibility. During Pretty Cool’s brief residency in the Time Out Market in Fulton Market in early 2020, she noticed that her downtown customers had different preferences from those in Logan Square: matcha- and kombucha-flavored pops were huge in Fulton Market while Logan Square loved Chicago Mix, and there was very little overlap between the two.
“I’m interested to know what flavor Lincoln Park is going to choose as its own,” Salls Cree says. She and her staff will continue to experiment with new flavors and combinations: she notes that several popular flavors, including passionfruit hibiscus, pina colada, and caramel horchata crunch, first appeared as seasonal specials.
But the plans Salls Cree had to expand into ice cream sandwiches have stalled for now. It’s more important, she says, to get the second store up and running, follow up on her commitments to serve ice cream at local parties and festivals and at Foxtrot Market, and to make sure that everyone who visits has the best possible experience. She’s also concerned about the rising cost of ingredients and other operating costs. “Watching the margins get smaller and smaller every week is nerve-racking,” she says. “But I look into customers’ eyes and think, ‘How can I charge you $6 for an ice cream?’”
But she feels confident that Lincoln Park will embrace Pretty Cool. “It took us so long, we look at it as a long-term commitment to the neighborhood,” she says. She’s also not worried about winter killing her business: “Real Chicagoans eat ice cream 12 months of the year.”
Pretty Cool Ice Cream Lincoln Park, 709 W. Belden Avenue, Open 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, Opens Friday, June 24.