Cream rises

Not quite 6 months old, Yummy’s already has loyal following

FREEZE FRAME <br>All of Yummy’s ice cream starts out with the same basic mix. Then, flavors and extras are added. For this batch of pistachio, for example, Lainie Johnson adds pistachio-flavored syrup and nuts.

All of Yummy’s ice cream starts out with the same basic mix. Then, flavors and extras are added. For this batch of pistachio, for example, Lainie Johnson adds pistachio-flavored syrup and nuts.

Photo by Tom Angel

Scoop’s on: Ten-year-old Sam Johnson’s favorite flavor is mint chip, while his sister, Kylie, 4, enjoys cookie dough and cotton candy. The top-selling flavor at Yummy’s is cookie dough. This writer recommends chocolate-peanut butter. A bunch of people requested black walnut, but then hardly anyone ordered it.

The stuff oozing out of the metal machine looks more like whipped cream than ice cream.

But Lainie Johnson, after just a few months running Yummy’s Home Made Ice Cream, already sounds like an old hand at the task, and she’s sure the batch is good to go. “The way you tell it’s quality ice cream is you weigh it,” she says. “Now I can just tell by the way it looks or the sound of the machine when it’s ready to come out.”

The process takes about three hours from start to finish, as Johnson makes 24 buckets at one time. On a dry-erase wall calendar, in her girly handwriting, is a schedule of which flavors will be concocted on which days. After being put into buckets, the ice cream goes into a hardening cabinet, where it doesn’t stay for long. For most flavors, the batch is gone in a couple of days. Yummy’s makes 35 flavors altogether, raging from the all-American favorite vanilla to “green tea.”

Yummy’s, which opened at East and Floral streets nearly six months ago, has already gained a loyal following. Last month, Yummy’s—a mere fetus compared to oldster Shubert’s—snagged CN&R readers’ votes for the best dessert in Chico.

And to think they were worried. After their original pick for a location fell through, Lainie and Ben Johnson set their sights on a new retail and office complex being built at the intersection not far from the Safeway shopping center and Pleasant Valley High School. Construction delays set them back in time and money. When opening day finally came, the couple was more than ready as nervousness mixed with their excitement.

The doors opened at 10 a.m. and there were no customers. But just a short while later they started streaming in, and that first day ended up being their best in terms of sales.

Now, the phone rings often, and Lainie Johnson answers with a cheery, “Yummy’s, what’s the scoop?”

The Johnsons had placed their faith—and a second mortgage—on the ice cream venture. Lainie Johnson, 32, had done in-home day care for 10 years, while her husband is a commercial diver.

“Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be in the restaurant business,” she said. The couple worked smart, hiring Chico State University business Professor Robert Gruhler to write their business plan. The Johnsons’ family and friends came together to get Yummy’s ready to go.

Even though they were prepared, there were still some surprises. “I used to be extremely organized, and the paperwork has just thrown me,” admitted Johnson. “But I knew what I was getting into because my uncle tried to talk me out of it.”

It was her uncle’s ice cream shop in Ohio, where she worked in high school, that gave her the idea. (Lainie originally moved to Chico as a child, in 1977; Ben was born and raised here.) Her uncle’s shop is also named Yummy’s, but the atmosphere is different from the one the Johnsons have created in Chico. The Johnsons wanted a place with space for their core customers, families with children. But the “party room” has become popular not only for parties, but also for business meetings. The décor is retro: vintage ice cream signs bought off eBay and ‘50s music in the background. “I love the patio,” Johnson said, proudly.

She doesn’t believe Yummy’s and Shubert’s are competing, really, just serving a different niche in a different part of town. “We both have homemade ice cream, but the atmosphere is real different.” Yummy’s stays open until 10 p.m.—and until 11 on summer weekends.

For the ice-cream-making process itself, Lainie Johnson found a role model in Rick Klopp, who owns Gunther’s, a mainstay in Sacramento. “He was like my mentor,” she said. “I still call him if I need advice.” They order supplies—like high-quality cream—together.

Yummy’s has a glass display case full of such ice-cream-related treats as mini ice-cream sandwiches, chocolate-covered cherries and banana chips, cakes and bon-bons. (If you order ahead, you can get bon-bons in any flavor.)

Now that they’re confident their ice cream has caught on, the Johnsons’ next goal is to spread the word that they have great lunches as well, with homemade barbecue for sandwiches and freshly sliced meats and cheeses. Italian sodas are on the menu, and they serve Paulo’s coffee drinks.

“I’ve always been a big cook," said Lainie, who feels like she’s found her calling. "I love what I’m doing."