Making ice cream is the best part of the job at Uncle Bob’s.
Curiously, the only two hands that produce Uncle Bob’s Homemade Ice Cream belong not to Uncle Bob Bally, who created the brand in 1980, and not by way of tribute to any of Uncle Bob’s numerous nephews and nieces.
They belong to Ben Bally, Bob Bally’s son, who took over general manager duties five years ago armed with a business degree from Auburn University and an ambitious plan to expand the business of his dreams.
Now customers can purchase a wide variety of the homemade ice cream at 60 catered events in the area and at Uncle Bob’s Eureka restaurant, 409 E. Center St., during the warmer months; and, eight local grocery stores and seven other scoop shops and restaurants all year long.
“The plan was to concentrate on three different areas of the business, catering events, our storefront shop in Eureka and selling wholesale,” Ben Bally said during a recent interview conducted as he made many gallons of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. “Over the last five years we’ve seen 30 percent growth each year compounded annually.”
Bob Bally started the business as a hobby, making homemade ice cream on the spot in front of customers and selling it at events like the Mennonite Relief Sale and the Heart of Illinois Fair.
The business grew by small measures to include more and more events, but Uncle Bob never intended for his ice cream business to be what it is today.
“That was my plan really,” Ben Bally said.
Now Bob Bally is the president of the company that operates Uncle Bob’s Homemade Ice Cream, but he doesn’t have an operational role.
Ben Bally is the vice president of the business, and the one who oversees the day-to-day operations.
And making all the ice cream.
“That’s my favorite part of the job,” Ben Bally said.
In the summer, Bally works the backrooms of Uncle Bob’s, arriving early, sometimes seven days a week, depending on the orders.
He combines the ingredients and flavorings and processes them through an Italian ice cream machine, made by Carpigiani.
A meter on the front of the machine displays the precise viscosity of the ice cream, allowing Bally to produce consistently perfect batches.
He next flash-freezes the end results in 3-gallon tubs in Martin, James and Willard the names of his three freezers given by his employees.
They keep the ice cream frozen down to minus-41 degrees.
He makes traditional ice creams like chocolate and vanilla, and non-traditional ones like rum chata salted caramel, Froot Loop and a Guiness-flavored ice cream available only at Kelleher’s in Peoria.
His ice creams are produced to surpass the highest, Super Premium standard of ice cream because of the amount of butterfat (14 percent) and the amount of overrun (30 percent) which basically measures the amount of air whipped into the 3-gallon batches.
Think Ben & Jerry’s richness, only fresher and colder because it’s made locally.
“A few of my recipes are the originals and have not changed over the years. The flavors I have not changed are pumpkin pie, made with whole baked pies, vanilla, strawberry, butter pecan, and mint chocolate chip,” Bally said. “All the other flavors I make I have either added to the list or I have tweaked slightly to make them better.”
Bally makes about 100 gallons of ice cream a day in the summertime, and works five, six or seven days a week.
He makes about 90 gallons a day during the colder months and makes ice cream four or five days a week.
“I only want to get so big. I want to be known as the local ice cream brand. You get too big and you can’t oversee the product as well as you’d like,” Bally said. “I could see expanding into Champaign and maybe Springfield, but that’s about it. I’m really picky about our quality.”
They cater about 60 events in the summertime — the festivals on the Riverfront, the Moss Avenue Sale and many others.
They also are invited to area companies and businesses where the ice cream is served as a treat for employees.
Uncle Bob’s Handmade Ice Cream is also now available in nine area grocery stores: IGAs in Eureka, El Paso, Metamora and Mackinaw, Hy-Vee and Alwan & Sons in Peoria, Lindy’s Downtown Market in Washington and the Heritage Farmers Mart in Pekin, and eight other restaurants and scoop shops.
They are displayed inside their own customized Uncle Bob’s freezers.
Bob Bally is also the company’s only delivery person.
“We aim for the densest, creamiest ice cream we can make,” Bally said. “We’re not the cheapest ice cream out there. I tell people it’s like giving yourself a treat.”
He said he’s learned a lot in his years of making ice cream, some things a person might expect, others one might not.
“I know that people who attend car shows really like strawberry ice cream and Oreo cookie ice cream,” Bally said. “I have no idea why.”