(WXYZ) — For Detroiter James Render, ice cream has always been in his DNA.
“I was at school, in elementary school, in the third grade, and we were in the library and I happened to look on the shelf and I saw a cookbook, a Betty Crocker cookbook,” Render recalls.
That book spoke to him — an ice cream recipe caught his eye — and that’s when his mom told him a deep love for ice cream wasn’t unusual in the family.
“She explained how when she was a girl, how her grandmother taught her how to make different flavors of ice cream,” he said.
But it wasn’t until he was working as a school teacher in Detroit that a fundraiser sparked an idea. He made ice cream to raise money for a boy’s choir — and people really liked it.
“I said, ‘this is doing well,’ and I got back into it, it’s something I love doing. So I stuck it out,” he said.
He bought an old church site in the city in 2012 to make ice cream — officially manufacturing the HattieGirl Ice Cream brand in 2017, with his mom’s face right on the front. “Hattie girl” is his mother’s nickname, given to her by her grandmother Lula Foster.
“At first she was, you know, she was shocked,” said Render of his mother.
Shock gave way to pride, and James’s mother, who’s now 86 years old, puts the work in when it comes to her son’s brand.
“Every day, every single day — she’s over there. She hasn’t missed one day,” said Render.
With expanded flavors, like pound cake, sweet potato pie, and pistachio, came growing fans — and local markets jumping at the chance to sell HattieGirl.
“I have a lot of customers who love all their flavors … I get customers that are a little bit furious when I don’t get certain flavors, so they got a good customer base,” said Antonio Elliott, shipping and receiving manager at Vegas Food Center in Harper Woods.
And then HattieGirl made its way into bigger locations like Meijer and most recently Walmart stores in Southeastern Michigan.
“We’re praying people and believers and God has really has shown up. I’m just blown away, the way he’s done it,” said Render. “It brings me a lot of joy to me to know that people do like what we’re doing now.”
As HattieGirl Ice Cream continues to scoop up hearts, James continues to pour love into a product that means so much to his family.
“I want people to know that it’s an all-natural product … and it’s made with love, it’s made with respect. You know … it has a great history behind it, and one that not only celebrates my mother, it also celebrates my great grandmother,” said Render.
Render said his dream is to open a larger facility and eventually be in stores across the country — a legacy for his mom, for his family.
Looking for HattieGirl locations? Here’s where you can find it in store: