You won’t find Chris Reilly making ice cream and sorbet in flavors designed to shock. The man behind Reilly Craft Creamery is a purist, not only about ingredients but also flavors.
“You will more than likely never have bacon and peanut butter ice cream from me,” Reilly says. He adds, “There is a reason why certain flavors — vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry — are favorites.”
Reilly produces his from-scratch ice cream in rented space at Avalon Bakehouse on Detroit’s east side in such flavors as coffee, butter pecan, strawberry, chocolate, and sea salt caramel, a fan favorite. He drives two hours to Standish to get organic milk from Hill High Dairy, where the cows are grass-fed, and his mix has no stabilizers, gums, or emulsifiers “except egg yolks and skim milk powder,” he says.
He also makes a vegan vanilla bean gelato using coconut milk that will surprise anyone who thinks there can’t be a good vegan ice cream.
“I try to use the best ingredients available in their purest forms,” Reilly says. And that commitment to using the best also extends to being environmentally conscious with biodegradable containers for the cups and pints of Reilly ice cream that are becoming more familiar across the metro area this summer.
Reilly has added retail outlets and appeared at pop-ups and farmers’ markets including Corktown and St. Clair Shores with his portable freezer and two helpers, his daughters Beatrix, 10, and Delaney, 8.
The road to entrepreneurship had an unlikely beginning. Reilly was working in construction in 2002 when he happened to meet Scott Lowell of Midtown’s Traffic Jam and Snug on a renovation project Lowell was involved in. On the strength of Reilly’s experience as an avid home brewer, he was able to get the job of head brewer at the Midtown restaurant, a role that also entailed making cheese and ice cream.
He was with the restaurant for 12 years, but couldn’t resist the urge to go out on his own. Since he had given up drinking, beer was not an option. He established the creamery, first under the name Uncle Bug’s, “but that didn’t seem to be the best idea,” he says with a smile. He quickly changed the name to Reilly.
“After starting my own company, I found out that I was really just a flavor maker there (at the Traffic Jam). It was not until I started making everything from scratch did I really hit my stride — making ice cream I am truly happy with from ingredients to process to flavor and sustainability.”
He says he read voraciously about the style of ice cream he wanted to make and credits David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris, for being an inspiration, introducing him to Berthillon Glacier in Paris, which is considered by some to make the best ice cream in the world.
Now, with Reilly Craft Creamery ice cream production well in hand, he has begun making a soft, Camembert-style blue cheese. If it’s as good as his ice cream, he’ll have a double dip.