Mitch Albom just opened Detroit Water Ice, a frozen dessert shop, on prime downtown Detroit real estate in the Compuware building that used to house Ben and Jerry’s. Albom, one of Detroit’s most well-known celebrities, came to Detroit to write sports for the Detroit Free Press.
He rose to national fame with best-selling novel Tuesdays With Morrie, which was turned into a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Now Mitch is following the likes of Paul Newman to mix star power and food retail to create Detroit jobs and support S.A.Y. Detroit, which aids the homeless. Our city has welcomed the new store with open arms, with three years of free rent through Bedrock Real Estate Services/Meridian Health and Mayor Mike Duggan eating the Chika Mango at the opening.
“I grew up eating it when I was a kid, and when I came here to Detroit in my early 20s, the only time I could ever get it is if I went home,” Albom said. “I always had a dream of bringing it here. I always wanted to do it for charity.”
Until now, barely anybody in Michigan has ever heard of Water Ice, which has the smooth consistency of Italian ice, but the watery feeling of a slushie. That’s because its a regional dessert only found in Philadelphia or the South Jersey area where Mitch grew up.
“There was a place called Genova’s, a little mom and pop store, maybe two blocks from my house,” Albom said. “We used to walk up there as kids all the time. We only had two flavors. He used to say, ‘lemon and cherry, lemon and cherry!’ If we got a spare dime or quarter, we were always up buying water ice. We have lemon and cherry here now.”
There is actually more than lemon and cherry. Flavors are inspired by Detroit culture, such as Vanilla Temptations, Corktown Cotton Candy and Woodward Watermelon. The store was three years in the making.
“Three years ago, I went to one of the places I grew up, in Westmont, New Jersey, and went to Primo’s Water Ice,” Mitch said. “They had the best tasting water ice I’ve ever had and they were just a mom and pop shop. I went in and said, ‘I’d like to bring this to the Midwest, but I want to do this just for charity. I don’t want any profit or any money for me. They were kind enough to say, ‘yeah, that sounds like a great idea.’ They made five different trips to Detroit, they gave us all their recipes, because they believe in doing good too.”
Albom appeared for the store’s grand opening wearing the employee uniform as he served customers who formed a line so long, it went out the door. It wasn’t just for show either. He really worked the line, zipping from one end to the other, never losing his smile as he handed people their treats.
“My goal is that this place has a line all the time,” he said. “All the kids who work here are part of Goodwill Industries. A line out the door means we will be employing that many more people that will need work in Detroit and that means we are making that much more for charity.”
Among many other charitable programs, Goodwill Industries in Detroit gives at-risk youth opportunities to learn a retail business.
Detroit Water Ice Facebook
1014 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
Hours: Mon-Sat: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun: 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.