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Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
The story behind Abner Butterfield Ice Cream Co.
When Ed Wright retired from the U.S. Air Force in May 2010 as a lieutenant colonel, he faced a decision that many recent college graduates can relate to.
What the heck was he supposed to do now?
Having gone to the University of South Carolina on an Air Force scholarship, Wright knew his post-college plans would involve military duty. But after a 22-year Air Force career that mostly involved IT work, Wright had a lot of options.
He could have applied his military experience to the private sector, getting into IT consulting or defense contracting. But instead the North Stafford resident decided to pursue a career built around a lifelong love. And thus was born the Abner Butterfield Ice Cream Co.
Among Wright’s fondest memories in a childhood spent in South Carolina were monthly trips with his father to visit his grandmother. Those included a stop at a soft-serve ice cream store in Florence, S.C., called Sundae House. Wright’s father knew a man who was in the ice cream business, so their home was always loaded with the tasty treat.
Wright has been making ice cream for 30 years, and he got serious about it five years ago. Friends who tried his product liked it so much that they encouraged him to do it professionally.
Last year Wright decided to give it a shot. He bought the necessary equipment and built a small plant in his Hampton Oaks garage. He attended a weeklong course at Penn State University on making ice cream. He bought an old linen truck and converted it into the traveling home of Abner Butterfield. He named his company in part after a long-ago friend from the Boy Scouts. The milk in his ice cream comes from Virginia cows.
Abner Butterfield opened for business this spring. Its truck—“Cafe Butterfield”— now travels to the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center Farmers Market every Wednesday and the Gordon Road market every Saturday to dispense a variety of flavors by the cone or pint. His son and neighbor help, and Wright has an internship program with the University of Mary Washington.
Wright’s hand-packed ice cream is also now sold at the Olde Towne Butcher in downtown Fredericksburg, Stafford Nursery on Truslow Road and Marshall Farms Corner in Unionville. Wright is looking for more stores and events where he can sell. He’s thought about opening his own retail location but is trying to keep costs low. He also does custom orders and designs new flavors based on customer feedback.
Wright might soon outgrow his at-home plant and is beginning to look for space. Eventually he’d like to create a destination off Interstate 95 where visitors can see ice cream get made and sample the results.
Wright continues to do some IT work on the side, but Abner Butterfield is taking most of his time as its popularity grows. He’s now making about 20-50 gallons a week. He wants it to be his new full-time career.
“I’ve always loved ice cream,” he said.
Here is video of Wright explaining how he makes the ice cream and a look at his small plant: