After a final week-long flurry of construction, Big Dipper Ice Cream in downtown Billings had a soft opening for friends, family and supporters Tuesday night.
“The guys who are working for us, they went all weekend, 14, 16 hours a day,” co-owner Bryan Hickey said.
Pending final inspections by the health and fire departments, Hickey hopes to open Big Dipper to the public by Thursday or Friday, and then have a grand opening sometime next week.
The ice cream shop, which has already expanded to Helena from its original location in Missoula, is in the old Marcasa Clothing space at 100 N. Broadway, kitty-corner from the Northern Hotel.
The new location will be managed by Lia Munson, who recently decided to become a co-owner with Hickey and his wife Sarah and Big Dipper founder Charlie Beaton.
Dozens of well-wishers crowded into the shop Tuesday night, giving the new staff a chance to try out the skills they’d been honing in training sessions in recent days. Hickey said they’ve hired 10 or 12 people already, and “I bet we’ll need to double that by summertime.”
Although Big Dipper will also be serving floats, sundaes and shakes, only ice cream cones were being given out Tuesday, made with 20 flavors that will be standard offerings, plus three specialty flavors.
The regular flavors include espresso Heath, cardamom, white mint Oreo, maple walnut, black licorice, El Salvador coffee, and lemon and tangerine sorbet.
The specialties included a raspberry sorbet, an ice cream made with the trimmed portions of Caramel Cookie Waffles and another made from the wort—the liquid extract of the mashing process—of Angry Hank’s signature beer, Street Fight Imperial Red Ale.
Hickey said they will also have a float made with Colombian espresso roasted down the block at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters, and they will be working with other local businesses on additional flavors. Everything served at Big Dipper will be made on site, in a big preparation room behind the retail space, and all dairy products are coming from the Meadow Gold plant just three blocks away on South Broadway.
Big Dipper is leasing the space from Jeremiah Young, who closed the Marcasa store to concentrate on his core business, Kibler & Kirch, an interior design studio and furniture store in Red Lodge. He is building a new design studio on the second floor of the Stapelton Building, just above the Big Dipper.
Young designed the ice cream shop and was the general contractor on the job.
“We moved a mountain to get this place ready,” Young said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
The shop features tile mosaics, oak countertops and tables and a powder-coated steel bench that wraps around the east and south sides of the seating area. Hickey said they will have outdoor chairs and tables when the weather seems more predictably warm.
“We’re not on any false assumption that winter is officially over,” he said.
Munson, the co-owner and store manager, has been in Billings since Feb. 1. Hickey came over in early March to help with the opening and will be returning to Missoula to run the store there.
“It has been a wild experience, but a good one,” Munson said. She’s also excited about living in Billings. “It feels like it’s up-and-coming, which is cool,” she said.
The Big Dipper will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., though if the demand is there it will stay open later.
“That’s a nice problem to have,” Hickey said. “I’d love to be open until 10:30 or 11.”
During the construction process, other business owners and passersby have been offering constant encouragement, Hickey said.
“Everybody we’ve met who’s familiar with Big Dipper at all is really excited,” he said. “It makes me feel so good, like we’re doing the right thing.”
Details: Big Dipper is still hiring and in particular is looking for servers with experience in the food service industry. If you’re interested, you can leave a message on the Big Dipper Facebook page or send queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.