WILLSHIRE DRIVE-IN

Summer Treats to Savor into Autumn
by Dee Fisher

Summer is the time for many outdoor activities, from baseball and softball to swimming and bicycling. Warm weather has a limited shelf life here in the Midwest—especially in Ohio, where we can go from running the furnace in the morning to running the air conditioner in the afternoon!

When the weather heats up, it’s also an ideal time for cool treats. Lots of people find relief from the heat with that worldwide favorite, ice cream. There are many small shops selling ice cream (and other cold treats) on a seasonal basis. Some become local landmarks, enjoyed by families over several generations, who create fond memories as they cool off on a hot summer day. In our area, one of those local creameries is the Willshire Drive-In.

The Willshire Drive-In is situated on the busy corner of US Route 33 and State Route 81 within sight of the Ohio-Indiana border. Situated as it is on two well-traveled highways, the drive-in sees myriads of cars and trucks going by. Many of them don’t just motor by; they stop in for a quick treat or a meal. Ice cream is one of the main draws for those busy travelers.

“Iced cream,” or “cream ice,” first showed up in modern times at the table of Charles I of England in the 1600s. France had already sampled the pleasures of frozen dairy desserts. It was brought to the French by Catherine de Medici of Italy in 1553 when she became the wife of Henry II.

But, the idea of frozen desserts came from the Far East. Marco Polo, that great Medieval traveler, brought flavored ice made from mountain snows (we would probably call it sherbet) back to Europe from China, where it had been enjoyed since 3000 BC. There is record of Alexander the Great—and even the famed King Solomon of Israel—enjoying iced and frozen treats at their banquets.

The average person didn’t have much of a chance to sample ice cream until 1660, when it was made available for sale to the general public in Europe. Frozen dairy made the journey to the New World by 1777, when the May 5th edition of The New York Gazette published an advertisement by confectioner Philip Lenzi. He announced that ice cream was available at his shop “almost every day.”

According to the records of a Chatham Street, New York merchant, George Washington spent $200 for ice cream in the summer of 1790, a princely sum for that time period. Dolley Madison served up a strawberry ice cream creation at President Madison’s second inaugural banquet, proclaimed as “magnificent” by all who attended.

But the manufacture of ice cream did not become an industry in the United States until after 1800, when the insulated ice house was invented. Suddenly, it became easier to create and store large quantities of frozen desserts for later sale.

Shops that sold ice cream and other sweet treats (later dubbed “ice cream parlors”) became popular after a Baltimore milk dealer named Jacob Fussell pioneered a workable method of manufacturing ice cream in bulk. As electrical and motorized technologies advanced throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, containers of ice cream became easier and easier to find until nowadays. The annual production of frozen dairy product (not counting other frozen items) has reached 1.6 billion gallons!

The Willshire Drive-In was first opened in 1954 by the Schickman family of Willshire. They lived across the road from the triangle-shaped portion of land upon which the drive-in was first built. Since then, the original “Tastee Freeze” has had just a few owners after the Schickmans sold it in the 1990s. Larry Donahy owned the business for 2 years, and then Gloria Black and her husband. The Blacks sold it in 1997 to Mike Schumm, the current owner.

Mike Schumm is a local boy, a graduate of Vantage Career Center in Van Wert. “I studied in the culinary arts program at Vantage,” Mike says. “I’ve always been interested in food—not just cooking, but also working in restaurants.” He worked for a restaurant with locations in both Celina and Van Wert for a number of years before the opportunity to purchase the drive-in came available.

Mike became a business owner at a relatively young age, so he likes to give younger workers a chance. “The problem with being young is that you don’t have a lot of experience working, which is something that bosses look for.

“No matter where they go after they work for me, just having worked in retail with the public looks really good on a resume,” Mike explains. Laughing, he adds, “I have teenagers and ‘more mature-agers’ working here.”

But having others working for him doesn’t mean Mike takes it easy. No matter what time of day you stop at the drive-in, you’ll be likely to see Mike there. “I enjoy working. I can’t imagine not working.

“Being here means I have control of what is being sold and how it’s being sold.”

The Willshire Drive-In sells both soft-serve and hard-dip ice cream in several flavors. Along with that, the usual cold treats are offered: shakes, sundaes, and novelty ice cream items.

Besides frozen desserts, the drive-in also makes great “fair-style” sandwiches, including Texas tenderloins and pork fritters. Chili cheese fries are a local favorite, also. Mike likes to rotate the menu offerings periodically to keep a variety of sandwiches and appetizers on the menu board.

“Summer is our busy time, of course,” Mike reports. “Local summer festivals, like Willshire Days, always boost our sales. Typically, we open on the first Tuesday in March, weather permitting, and stay open through the Sunday before Thanksgiving.”

Who screams for ice cream? We all do, and the Willshire Drive-In is a great place to get it! Make a memory with your family and enjoy the old-time food they make.

Willshire Drive-In
386 Walcott Street
Willshire, OH 45898
(419) 495-2088

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