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By James McKean
In the summer of 1992 American Rhodes Scholar, George Stroup, decided that Oxford was missing something crucial, and so he founded a business in order to provide a few basic things for the local community: “great ice cream, reasonably-priced quality food, friendly, convenient service and a bright, unpretentious atmosphere”.
Fast-forward twenty years and G & D’s is bustling. My friend and I stand in a long queue of people, despite the dreary weather. Within no time at all a friendly employee greets us cheerily and asks what he can get us. It takes a moment for me to truly appreciate the huge amount of choice such a simple question has presented me with. I later spoke to Marcus, the G & D’s production manager. He told us that “G & D’s is, and always has been, about the ice cream above everything else”. The G & D’s team make all of their ice cream on-site at the back of their Little Clarendon Street café, and so all the ice cream you enjoy there hasn’t been made long beforehand. For those who work at G & D’s though, staying connected with students is a big part of what they do. Obviously with so many students about they can hardly avoid it, but those at G & D’s remember their roots. “Students are really important to us here,” Marcus tells us; a fact that is evident in how much they do for the student community. Whether it’s providing ice cream for balls, dressing up as cows for freshers’ week or running a ‘boat race’ competition for all college boat clubs with a ton of free ice cream as a prize, G & D’s go out of their way to make students feel special.
Of course, I was intrigued to know more about the ice cream making process. Marcus told us “there are lots of different ways we might come up with a new flavour; someone may suggest one in the petition book. If they get thirty signatures then it’ll be considered. Others might just come to one of us as a great flavour idea.” It clearly is a work of art – there are always a huge range of flavours available at each of the three cafés, and there’s always something to take your fancy, no matter what mood you’re in. I pressed Marcus to tell us what he thought was the next big flavour of the summer, but he was adamant that G & D’s does something for everyone. Last year they introduced a Mandarin flavour which was very well received, and it is part of the ethos of the shop that they are constantly being inventive in creating new, delicious flavours. They are so inventive, in fact, that when the Oxford Bar Society approached them asking to have a new flavour made in commemoration of the founding of their society, G & D’s created a new flavour with an edible snail inside; for those of you who are lawyers, you’ll appreciate the subtle reference to Donoghue v Stevenson. It is this constant evolution and creativity that makes G & D’s so loved and still so relevant in Oxford today.
Our thoughts then turn to the future; what’s next for G & D’s? Marcus tells us that they’ll be “carrying on creating new flavours that people like and enjoy”, but they are looking to expand. Marcus tells us that he’s not sure about the specifics of it all, but he imagines that in the future G & D’s will be looking to expand to other places apart from just Oxford. It’s interesting to see a company so optimistic in light of the latest ‘double-dip’ announcement, but Marcus is confident. “We’ve seen other ice cream shops pop up and go over the last few years, but we’ve always stayed.” Rivals don’t bother the guys at G & D’s; they’re not worried about what everyone else is doing. All they want is to be making the best ice cream, which their customers enjoy, at reasonable and affordable prices.
G & D’s is a great local business. It supports other local businesses, refuses to put anything artificial in their ice cream and genuinely appreciates its customers. But none of these things are even the best thing about it; the ice cream scoop I was served as I left the café genuinely made me feel like summer was coming. In a world dominated by essay crises, all-nighters and finals/prelims, who doesn’t need a little bit of summer in their life?