'Gold medal' ice cream shop gets right to the pint

by Len Lear
Posted 6/20/24

“I work from 5:30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. If someone invented a 25th hour or an eighth day in the week, I'd be working it,” said Danielle Jowdy.

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'Gold medal' ice cream shop gets right to the pint


“I work from 5:30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. If someone invented a 25th hour or an eighth day in the week, I'd be working it,” said Danielle Jowdy. Her shop, Zsa's Ice Cream, at 6616 Germantown Ave. in West Mt. Airy, was just awarded “gold” in a citywide “Philly Favorite” poll conducted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Even though the shop is closed on Mondays, Jowdy still puts in a full day on Mondays, catching up on bills, ordering supplies, going to the bank, photographing menu items for social media, cooking for a week's worth of dinners at home, spending time with her dog, sending an email newsletter to more than 3,000 subscribers, etc. In other words, she works almost literally 24/7/365!

“That is what being a small business owner is like,” she said. “You are there until the last customer at night. Since I cannot get away on an actual vacation, I try to go into the Wissahickon to run about six to 10 miles as often as possible. I started that during Covid. It helps me focus during the long days.”

On June 3, 2011, Jowdy took a leap of faith by giving birth to Zsa's Gourmet Ice Cream, not in a  brick-and-mortar storefront but at farmers markets and festivals in the Philadelphia area. Jowdy would sell her made-from-scratch sweets out of a 1963 International Harvester Metro van, purchased on eBay by her then-partner, Parker Whitehead. Whitehead and Jowdy named the van Gatsby, after F.Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, “The Great Gatsby,” because the name seemed to evoke “merriment.”

I discovered her ambrosial ice cream products at the Mt. Airy Food Fair in August of 2011. In a span of just four hours, the then-Chestnut Hill resident, who now lives in Germantown, sold 700 servings of ice cream!
Jowdy closed the truck business in 2018 and opened the Mt. Airy shop in December of that year. At one point, Zsa's was also available in 50 local stores, including Weavers Way Co-op, Night Kitchen Bakery, Foodery in Roxborough and several Whole Foods supermarkets. “But we got so busy at the shop,” said Jowdy, “that we had to stop providing ice cream to the groceries. That's not what lights a fire under my feet.”

The name Zsa's comes from a nickname Danielle and her sister, Rebecca, used to call each other when they were children. There's no personal meaning to the name. "It definitely has nothing to do with Zsa Zsa Gabor," Danielle said, with a laugh. "It's just one of those things. I think we saw the name and thought, 'That's a really cool name; it starts with a Z,’ and while people may have trouble pronouncing it, the uniqueness of the name stays in the mind." 

Jowdy learned to make ice cream while growing up in Connecticut and one of the few things she took from her childhood home, before her parents sold it, was an old hand-cranked ice cream maker. “I was always making ice cream as a hobby,” she recalled.

Jowdy was formerly a stained-glass artist, but after being laid off and rehired twice between 2010 and 2011, she turned her ice cream hobby into a viable business.
“Both of my parents were small business owners, so it wasn't an odd concept to me,” she said, “but I knew I didn't have enough experience, proof of concept, or funding to open a brick-and-mortar store at that time.”

Jowdy has acquired all of the above, however, as punctuated by her recent “Philly Favorite” award.

“I am proud that we have had a loyal following for 13 years,” she said. “I'd say the best sellers are Cookies and Cream, Double Chocolate with Peanut Butter Chunk, Brown Butter Pecan and Cake Cake Cone with chunks of homemade cake. My mom used to make that for my birthday. When I make it, I feel like I am recreating my childhood. And,” she added, “we have several vegan flavors.”

Jowdy's crew helps her with Tik Tok, Instagram and her newsletter, but most business comes from repeat customers and word-of-mouth. She insists that having everything made from scratch, and getting all their dairy from Lancaster Farm Fresh, is what sets Zsa’s apart.

The prices are definitely higher than the ice cream in supermarkets and grocery stores “because there is so much labor involved and so many ingredients, and the process is physically demanding, but it's worth it because you can definitely tell the difference.”

A stunning mural of a Wissahickon Park scene is currently being painted by local artist Paul Carpenter in front of Zsa's building. For more information, visit zsasicecream.com. Sue Ann Rybak contributed to this article. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

West Mt. Airy, ice cream, Danielle Jowdy, Zsa's