Ice cream shop born in Ireland grows in Wilmington
WILMINGTON, NC (AP) — If there’s a home-away-from-home for Jeff Hogan, it’s Ballybunion, a seaside town in Ireland. He’s visited many times over the past decade or so, often with his father who eventually bought a home there.
On each visit, he goes to an ice cream shop called Sundaes not far from Ballybunion Beach.
“The ice cream is so good,” he said. “And I’d just have to go back the next year.”
It became an annual tradition for him to ask owner Joanna McCarthy if he could open one of her ice cream shops in North Carolina. The UNCW grad has owned many local businesses over the years, from accounting services to the Hang Ten Grill in Carolina Beach.
He knew that this ice cream was something special.
But each time he asked, McCarthy said no. It took a few years for the Hogans (the businessman son and the neighborly father) to change her mind. Now, their partnership is growing to more locations in North Carolina.
To get it started, Hogan spent weeks training with McCarthy and learning her recipes. She, in turn, traveled North Carolina to source just the right ingredients that would best recreate the ice cream,
It’s a little different than many American versions that have more air for a lighter texture. Celtic Creamery ice cream, in contrast, is thick, creamy and dense.
Hogan opened Celtic Creamery at 201 N. Lake Park Blvd. in 2018, around the time Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast. It wasn’t an easy start, but it’s already a well-reviewed coastal classic.
To some of McCarthy’s classic Irish flavors, there’s also a seasonal menu and Southern flavors.
“If you own an ice cream store and you go to another, you always order vanilla,” Hogan said. “It’s a flavor that should stand on its own.”
Another popular flavor is the Irish Butter Pecan, made with Kerrygold butter. The Mint To Be substitutes chocolate cookies for the usual chocolate chips. A bright, cocoa-y Red Velvet, though, does add chips for extra flavor and texture. For the holiday season, they bring out the peppermint.
Celtic Creamery also makes everything in house, from the whipped cream to the chocolate sauce to the mini doughnuts that serve as a base for some of their sundaes, like the Surfer Special.
Lately, that success is starting to expand in a new way as Hogan and McCarthy have started franchising the business. Three new locations are now open, including ones in Surf City, Hendersonville and Smithfield.
“I think we both got so bored during the pandemic, we thought we’d try it,” Hogan said.
He’s also talking with possible franchise owners about potential locations in Porters Neck, Leland, Southport and Florida.
“But we are trying to go slow because we want to grow in the right way,” he said.
Hogan and McCarthy are also ideal partners. She is the creative force behind the recipes, making sure the ice creams are flavored with European extracts and have the right about of butterfat. The detail-oriented McCarthy is also the one to write operating manuals,
Hogan’s skills include trying to find the right people – to work behind the ice cream counter and those who may be able to open other successful locations.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that, say, at Hang 10 Grill, if you tell someone there’s a 10 minute wait for a table they start to get mad,” he said. “But people will wait in a line around the corner for an ice cream.”
Something about ice cream makes people smile.
“It’s the happiest business I’ve ever owned.”