Sometimes the universe atones for itself. After a relatively mild run, summer began both technically this week and with a harsh reality that has Knoxville baking. What could balance out this unfortunate development? Cruze Farm ice-cream might do the trick, right? Well, just in time for the worst of the heat, Colleen Cruze and the Cruze Farm Girls welcome you to downtown Knoxville’s newest pop-up shop at 513 Union Avenue, the former home of Just Ripe.
The milk business has deep roots in the family. Colleen explained that her great-grandparents sold milk downtown and her parents had a milk and ice-cream shop where she worked when she was six-years-old. She displayed her own initiative early and brought ice cream to the Market Square Farmers’ Market before she could drive, hitching rides and dragging along a cooler filled with the family’s goodness.
It was while in college she became more serious about the business. That’s when the Cruze Farm trailer made its debut at the market and she committed to participating every Saturday. Realizing her parents were doing all they could do on the production side, with little time to develop new markets, she dramatically increased the number of vendors and the family bottled more. The fact that the “buy local” movement picked up steam about the same time helped and soon the family sold to Butler and Bailey, Earthfare and Whole Foods.
Along the way, hot dogs were added to the mix. Colleen pointed out that hot dogs and ice cream are the ultimate summer foods. Each of the foods, however, aren’t typical for their class of fare. The cows are pastured 365 days a year and are never given hormones. The milk is not homogenized. The hot dogs come from the Berkshire hogs the family raises and they’ve found a processing plant that uses no nitrates, nitrites or msg, making the most natural hot dog possible.
As for the idea to do a pop-up shop, she said it seemed like the right time to try something a little different. She learned about the availability of the shop when she bought a truck from Chris Burger and he mentioned it. Not ready to make a longer-term commitment, the space fit perfectly because it has been leased beginning two months from now, so it is strictly a time-limited engagement. She also pointed out that it was a good fit in terms of build-out as they had to do very little to get it ready to open.
Joining Colleen at the milk bar will likely be more of the Cruze Farm Girls you’ve all become accustomed to seeing at the Market Square Farmers’ Market. The young girls have been recruited by Colleen and aren’t simply used for marketing – they do the actual work on the farm. The uniforms were Colleen’s idea and they have attracted girls who might not otherwise consider working on a farm. She wants to expose more people – particularly girls – to the rewards of producing food and farming.
You may also run into Manjit Bhatti, Colleen’s husband, who she pointed out she “picked up in the Bistro at the Bijou.” She claims to have paid a waitress $20 to cough up his phone number. Soon thereafter she hired him as the cook, though she says her father saw through what was happening. The couple is expecting their second child later this year.
She’s already fallen for her Union Avenue neighbors, who she says have been exceptionally welcoming. She’d just had her first Pete’s biscuit earlier the morning we talked and she said Pete had offered to put a poster in his window promoting her business. I asked her if she’d look for a permanent location if the shop is a great success and she indicated that is more of a long-term, rather than short term goal and the right situation would have to present itself.
What you’ll find in the milk bar is eight flavors of ice cream – I sampled the cookies and cream and despite the fact that I’m not generally a big ice cream fan, I was blown away. You’ll also find floats, shakes and other ice cream-based dishes, as well as the full range of Cruze Farm milk products. Biscuits will be available on Friday and Sunday in the shop and Saturdays at the market and you’ll be able to pick up a range of specialty hot dogs.
The shop will be open seven days a week. Hours Monday through Thursday are 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Friday 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM, Saturday 2:00 PM – 9:00 PM (after market) and Sunday 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM. You have two months. Grab it while you can!