When the weather gets really hot, there are very few things I actually feel like doing. Everything is suddenly way too much effort. And the only activities that sound good involve some way of cooling down — at least those are the kind that appeal to me.
One thing I feel is a universal go-to when the weather gets hot is ice cream. There’s nothing better than a crunchy waffle cone filled with your favorite flavor. And if you want a local ice cream experience that’s unique and fun, it’s got to be Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande. Owner Greg Steinberger calls it “the ultimate ice cream experience.”
“The neatest thing about ice cream is everybody loves it because it always evokes memories, and they’re always positive memories,” Steinberger said.
This place is a lot more than just your average ice cream shop. It’s got this an old-fashioned feeling that is really fun. And you can’t miss the model train track going around the top of the walls. The shop’s original owner, Chuck Burns, loved trains, Steinberger said, so they have been a part of the place from the start (when it was Burnardo’z Candy Kitchen and Ice Cream Parlor). Steinberger continued the tradition when he took over the shop in 2003.
Burns taught Steinberger his secrets and shared his recipes, Steinberger said, and he even combined his and Burns’ names in creating the name for the new shop. Get it? Burnstein? I love it.
Obviously a great ice cream shop has to have a great product, and this place has the reputation to prove it. The original store opened by Burns in 1976 was two years before Ben and Jerry’s, Steinberger said, and by the time Burns sold it in the early 1990s, he had seven locations and shipped his ice cream as far as Fresno.
Doc Burnstein’s has all the standard flavors for the traditionalists, but it also has some really distinct ones. The flavor I noticed immediately was the Merlot Raspberry Truffle — Steinberger said it’s become his signature flavor made with a specially-produced wine.
Then there’s Motor Oil, which was originally made for a car show weekend in Pismo Beach, but Steinberger said people wanted it to be a regular flavor. Right now, the shop is even making an avocado ice cream for Sunset magazine.
“The inspiration comes often from customers and ideas, but sometimes it’s just a special event,” Steinberger said. “Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t.”
The best part about Doc Burnstein’s flavor offerings is the shop gets a new addition each week from the Wednesday night ice cream lab show. During the “show,” the audience decides on a flavor and ingredients; and those are made into the weekend’s featured flavor right before their eyes. Doc Burnstein’s has been doing the labs for six years, Steinberger said, and lately, it’s been getting more popular. Last week it was “Rooster Cream” — root beer ice cream with gummy worms, Poppycock popcorn, candy corn and Robin Eggs.
And Doc Burnstein’s does more than just offer great ice cream — the shop is also involved in the community in a number of ways. Last summer, employees built a 100-inch version of one of their ice cream sandwiches for the city of Arroyo Grande’s 100th anniversary. It was so big it had to be put together in two pieces, used 30 gallons of ice cream and served 1,200 people. No joke.
Steinberger said these ice cream sandwiches are available for fundraisers or company events, or if you just have a group of 1,200 friends who want ice cream. He also said he wants to get the Guinness Book of World Records to recognize it as the largest commercially available ice cream sandwich in the world.
The shop also holds reading labs on Tuesday nights where kids can come and listen to books read by local storytellers, and every two months, it has blood drives. Steinberger said the shop pledges 10 percent of yearly profits to local schools too. Being involved in the community is important for Doc Burnstein’s, he said.
“It’s a big part of who we want to be,” Steinberger said. “We want to do what we can to give back.”
Doc Burnstein’s has another location in Orcutt which opened in late February, and Steinberger said he wants to expand to San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles in the future.
It’s “very uplifting” for Steinberger to help people make lasting memories at the shop, and he has come to realize how much his business can impact the community.
“It’s very meaningful to know that it’s going to be well-remembered even after I’m gone and hopefully carry on after I’m gone.”
At Doc Burnstein’s people don’t come just to get ice cream, Steinberger said, people come here to feel good, so the shop tries to create that kind of experience for customers with everything they do.
“We want to make sure that every experience here is memorable, and that it’s just something that stands out above other ice cream shops,” Burnstein said. “It’s not just about the ice cream, it’s about the ice cream experience.”