The Great White Milky Way
Remembering the Gate City’s dairy bars
By Billy Eye
“I have never been lost but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”
— Daniel Boone
Eye was wandering down Gate City Boulevard the other day, don’t ask why or I may feel obligated to tell you how badly I regretted my luncheon choice. As I’m wont to do while meandering aimlessly, I stumbled across a curiosity, the former storefront of Biltmore Dairy Farms’ ice cream parlor located on the corner of Highland, a block west from Tate. (Coincidentally, Guilford Dairy had a nearby ice cream bar, but more about that later.)
The entire building is empty now but the painted sign is partially visible. Biltmore Dairy Farms was an Asheville concern, hence the name, with operations spread across the Southeast. Their milk and ice cream were considered a bit richer than the competition.
Biltmore’s dairy operation expanded into Greensboro in the late 1940s. Butter, eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream and milk were loaded onto yellow and brown trucks at Biltmore’s depot on Battleground and Pisgah Church. Delivery drivers in crisp white uniforms fanned out around the city, gently placing whatever was ordered directly into your fridge, if that was your preference. When a customer wasn’t home they’d leave everything outside the door in a metal box designed to shade the contents from the sun.
We were a Guilford Dairy (“Your Hometown Dairy”) family but they operated in much the same way. Guilford was a cooperative made up of some 50 local farmers with contented cows, formed in the 1930s in reaction to Pet Milk forcing wholesale prices downward.
Twice a week at breakfast time, the sound of that pug-nosed 1959 Divco “ice buggy” could be heard thumping down our driveway, brakes squealing as the red-and-white Guilford Dairy truck came to a halt, followed almost immediately by the clinking of quart-sized glass bottles rattling against the wooden crates they were transported in. Unlike Guilford Dairy, or maybe my parents never clued us in, Biltmore also delivered ice cream and frosty treats like chocolate Winky Bars and orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream Push-Ups.
Both dairies had proprietary satellite ice cream parlors with winding luncheonette counters not unlike those found at the major drug stores and five-and-dimes. Biltmore’s shop at 1002 Lee Street (now Gate City Boulevard, natch) opened in 1950, offering diverse culinary options like cherry sundaes, mozzarella sticks, and French onion soup. Fast casual, 1950s-style.
The windows above this Biltmore Dairy Farms location, long ago bricked in and boarded up, represent two very large apartments running the length of the building. Trish Schultz fondly recalls those second floor walkups: “My grandparents lived there back in the late ’50s and ’60s and I stayed with them many days. I’d go in that side door to walk upstairs to my grandparent’s apartment, stairs to the left and then to the right. A blind lady lived upstairs as well.” Most of Trish’s childhood memories of her grandparents are centered around this address on Lee Street, “I used to look out the kitchen window and watch the trains go by. We’d cross Lee Street to cash in bottles [at Lippard’s Grocery].” Biltmore shuttered their souped-up soda fountains in 1966 but continued milk delivery well into the 1970s.
Guilford Dairy Bar’s first Greensboro soda fountain appeared in 1947, a stand-alone shop on Lee Street that more recently housed a skateboard emporium. In contrast to Biltmore’s one and only Greensboro venue, there were seven Guilford Dairy Bars scattered about the city by the 1960s, including storefronts in Summit Shopping Center and Friendly Center. Their Plaza Shopping Center location, where Moe’s Southwest Grill is today, was one of the few restaurants I can remember my parents taking us to when we were young.
The Guilford Dairy Cooperative Association became United Dairy in 1969, Guilford Dairy Bars around the state were absorbed into the Mayberry Ice Cream chain. I never noticed any significant change back in the day, other than the signage. Sundaes tasted the same, made with the plainest vanilla ice cream imaginable, hot fudge, nitrous oxide propelled whipped cream, topped with half a maraschino cherry.
Want the scoop on what that long-ago experience was like? You’re in luck. Guilford Dairy Bar in the Summit Shopping Center, aka Mayberry Ice Cream Shoppe, has been operating continuously for almost 70 years, preparing dishes pretty much the way they always have since the ribbon was cut on that retail strip back in the 1940s.
As an aside, I was attracted by another nearby anomaly on Gate City, on the other side of Tate Street, five charming Craftsman style homes from the late 1920s and 1930s, all but one vacant. They surround the former Good Luck Coal and Good Luck Beverages distribution center; Pugh Metal Finishing was there in the 1990s. This building is a tad run down now, if by tad you mean totes, but at least a portion of that structure is still in use by a beverage distributor. Plans are afoot to rehab this space for a brewery. Be nice if these homes could be repurposed or relocated for future generations to enjoy as well. OH
Billy Eye is the author of five books, all but one of them available, and can be reached at Billy@tvparty.com.