The property at 221 S. Sacramento Street is up for sale, and when it finally sells and escrow closes it will mark the end of an era for Lodi. The era of Blewett’s Dairy and Creamery actually ended, for all intents and purposes, 14 years ago when the quaint little café and ice cream shop closed for business forever.
Robert Blewett, heir to the estate and grandson of founder Howard Blewett, took a recent visitor on a tour of the building, its front door boarded up to prevent more unwanted guests from breaking in. Inside the café is like stepping back in time. Kind of. Several of the restaurant’s artifacts and utensils remain in their respective places, as if waiting for another day of business. Iconic plastic water glasses still sit stacked on a shelf behind the soda counter. Straws still stand upright in their holders waiting to be used by the next customer. The Hamilton-Beach 3-spindle blender awaits the next order for a creamy smooth milk shake, the kind that made Blewett’s famous. In an adjacent room behind glass windows several commercial ice cream-making machines sit idle. A built-in commercial refrigerator with its half-dozen wood-framed glass doors sits empty. Howard Blewett’s Rotary badge is clipped to the glass backing of the fountain counter, ready to be worn to another meeting.
Despite all that remains, much has changed. The penny-farthing high wheeler bicycles that once hung from the ceiling are gone, as are most other items that customers may remember. The booths, tables and chairs that once hugged the wall have been removed, same with most other things of any value. The fountain counter with the flap doors that kept the large commercial cans of fresh ice cream cold are still there, but empty. Steel liners that help keep the metal ice cream containers from moving around while the precious content is being scooped — a Howard Blewett invention — are still there.
The latest menu still proudly displays ice cream selections of the day — a decade and a half ago. Among the options were maple nut, coconut fruit, pistachio, butter krunch, pumpkin and their famous peppermint. Cones were $1.50 for a single scoop, and $2.60 for a double. Shakes, sodas and floats were $3, a banana split would set you back $3.50. Fresh peach ice cream cost more — $1.65 per single scoop cone. A hand-packed quart was $5.85, according to a chalkboard menu that’s withstood the test of time. Howard created almost all of the different ice cream flavors, his grandson says.
While Blewett’s may be gone, there are memories galore. Betty Bowles recalls, “My sister and I would take 50 cents and go there after church for a triple decker cone.” Corina Violett remembers, “My mom used to take my four sisters and (me) every Sunday after church. I always got the same — a warm waffle cone with mint chip.” Jim Clark says they made the best tuna melt in town. Betty Shannon says she would get a “huge scoop of ice cream for 5 cents ... . We had to take a number to be waited on.”
Maurie Jacinto says, “I had my first chocolate milkshake there when I was 5 years old. You got the big glass plus the big metal container. When I finished the glass I started on the metal container and it came out all at once and it was all over me.” William Belforte says he and Jerry Hugo would go there at least once a week back in the fifties for some of their chocolate ice cream.
Valdene Valenti says she and her twin sister Marlene would go to the dentist and, “If we had a clear checkup at our visits, or demonstrated ‘bravery’ while seated in the dental chair, Dr. Sweeney would write us a ‘prescription’ for an ice cream cone at Blewett’s!” Dan Phelps says he recalls taking his very first field trip to the creamery when he “was a Woodbridge School kindergartner during the 1960-61 school year. I remember the workers handling those big milk cans and milk sloshing about... .” Pam Kundert Squires remembers, “My dad used to take me there on my birthday every year to get peppermint ice cream. It was so special.”
Most people think of the ice cream parlor when they think of Blewett’s, but that only represented about 20 percent of the business, according to Robert. The whole operation produced a full line of dairy products, including milk, butter, cottage cheese, whipping cream and of course ice cream. “Everything we made was really, really good,” recalls Robert, who worked in the business for years. He started out earning $1 an hour making ice cream back then. He says one of the reasons people loved Blewett’s ice cream so much was because it was made using 14 percent butter fat, which made for an exceptionally smooth and creamy product.
Robert’s Aunt Betty (Smith), his dad’s sister, ran the fountain. No one is sure when it opened, but he thinks it was probably in the mid-1940’s. Over the years several other Blewett Creamery outlets popped up throughout California, including a second location on Lodi Avenue. But Aunt Betty had help. Mieko "Mickey" Daijogo assisted her in running the shop and became as well-known as anyone there. Mickey is a story in herself. She attended high school while at the Tule Lake internment camp and came to Lodi in 1959. Starting out as a housekeeper for Howard, Mickey soon became involved in running the ice cream shop, a job she would hold for about 20 years.
Clarence “Howard” Blewett began his career in the dairy business in 1923 when he began delivering milk door-to-door from a horse-drawn wagon. He bought a 400-quart-a-day milk delivery business in 1926, soon expanding into dairy farming and the milk production business. He began making ice cream in the late 1930s under the Peek-A-Boo label. Blewett operated six creameries in California until 1951, selling all but the one in Lodi. His dairy operation occupied several buildings on several different blocks along Sacramento Street. A large garage\breezeway on the south end of the building near Lodi Avenue is where tanker trucks would pull in and unload the raw milk, which would be transferred to the processing section of the plant. In an area behind the ice cream parlor, the milk would be homogenized and made ready for bottling. Blewett Dairy operations ceased in the mid-1960s, leaving only the fountain and restaurant. Howard died in 1991 at the age of 86.
Howard’s son, Clem, worked in the family business, including driving a delivery truck, until his dad died, thus inheriting what remained of the business. He continued to run the restaurant and fountain for several years, but scaled back the hours of operation as his health began to decline. Clem closed the shop for the last time in January, 2005. He died in March, 2009 at the age of 81. According to Clem’s son Robert, Blewett’s Dairy\Creamery was his dad’s “identity.” Robert and his brother Jeff are in the process of liquidating the last remnants of the once-thriving Blewett enterprise.
What’s his favorite memory? Robert says Blewett’s was “a big deal in a small town.”
Steve Mann is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.