UTICA — Don’t be surprised if the next time the village of Utica is mentioned, someone says, “Hey, that’s the Ice Cream Capital of Ohio!”
The Ohio House of Representatives recently introduced a resolution that would give the village the designation. With the presence of Velvet Ice Cream Inc., the village has been the focal point for ice cream enthusiasts from all over the state.
The legacy began in 1914, when Joseph Dager made his first batch of ice cream in a Utica confectionery. His creation was the beginning of Velvet Ice Cream. Now, the fourth generation of the Dager family keeps the legacy a thriving heartbeat within the community.
“The village of Utica discussed it at the council meeting last week and [approved] the bill, and now it’s at State Rep. Jay Hottinger’s office,” said Luconda Dager, vice president of Velvet Ice Cream Inc. She is the great-granddaughter of the founder.
For many years, Utica has been seen as the unofficial ice cream capital of Ohio, particularly with its famous ice cream festival.
“For the past 35 years, it has been home to the Utica ice cream festival, the largest ice cream festival in the state,” said Dager. “It attracts 40,000 visitors each Memorial Day weekend.
“For the rest of the summer and fall, another 150,000 visitors come to Velvet to visit the Ye Olde Mill, which is a 200-year-old gristmill on our campus, where we have an ice cream parlor, the only ice cream museum in Ohio, and a restaurant.”
Velvet has been making ice cream in Utica for nearly a century and manufactures 5 million gallons of ice cream a year in more than 500 flavors.
“To give you some perspective on [how much], it would fill an Olympic swimming pool more than eight times,” said Dager.
“We are all about the community and we want to help put Utica on the map,” she said. “Now, certainly, there are other ice cream companies in Ohio. In fact, some very good ice cream companies — Graters, Smith Dairy, Pierre’s, just to name a few. The difference is this: No other community in Ohio is so intricately linked with ice cream. Ice cream is to Utica what glass was to Toledo, rubber to Akron, and steel to Youngstown and Steubenville. It is of our very identity.”
“I think it would be a great distinction and certainly a marketing tool,” said Utica Mayor Larry Friesel.
The presence of Velvet is an important part of the history of Utica as well as the community’s economic system.
“With the designation of Ohio’s Ice Cream Capital, we hope to make Utica even more of a destination,” said Dager.
Friesel said he anticipates the motif to not only establish a great theme for the community, but for it to be a benefit to local businesses.
“If [travelers] come to Velvet Ice Cream, it’s a great weekend trip for people to come here, go through the ice cream factory and see what it’s like. And they might buy gas here, eat at a restaurant here, and some might [decide to] move here,” he said. “I think it is a win-win situation that is positive and will only help Utica, and I don’t see anything negative about it at all.”