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Stateside Podcast: Spreading joy and sweetness for generations

April Baer
Michigan Radio

This summer, we're spending time at restaurants that have fed Michiganders over generations. Today we headed to the Washtenaw Dairy, just down the street from our studios where team Stateside can sometimes be found having a cooldown on hot summer days. This is a small historic storefront dating back to the 1930s. A place where people park themselves on the benches to enjoy ice cream cones, sundaes, and fresh made donuts.

“My mom likes the 'Cookies and Cream.' My brother likes the 'Superman.' We always come down here, because my grandmother used to live down here, so ever since I was a kid, everyone knew grandma's trips mean Washtenaw Dairy at the end," said one customer.

Inside, the Washtenaw Dairy has stuck to the old time ice cream parlor design with a few tables where the regulars hold court. Cases lining the walls offer milk, bread and a selection of local wines and beers, suggesting the way this has become a neighborhood stop for pantry essentials and of course — the ice cream.

"We were full service in that we started out with the raw milk that came from the from the dairy farmers and then bottled it and made ice cream. But, yeah, that's what the dairy did. They didn't start making donuts until about 1982," said owner Mary Jean Raab.

Raab is part of the family who has keep the The Washtenaw Dairy going for generations. So with her extensive experience both in the business world and food service, when the time came for her to take over, she didn’t think twice about it.

“I really had to do it. I had no question about it,” Raab said. “I mean, there just had to be someone in the business, with business acumen to be able to know labor laws, and know current things and everything that we need to know about business these days. It's not the way it was back in 1934, that's for sure.”

Raab believes the secret of the Washtenaw Dairy’s longevity is being able to pivot. She says, during the first year of the pandemic, the dairy parlor didn’t lay off any employees and didn’t lose a day of business.

“We sold a lot more bread, we sold a lot more groceries,” Raab said. “I mean, we were the place people could stop and just grab something really quick and not have to come in close contact with anybody else... We made it through. We had our best sales year that companies ever had last year.”

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Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of <i>Stateside</i>.
Lauren Nyong joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023 and is a Junior studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Calvin University.