The Growth of Graeter’s: Yet Everything is the Same



Photography by Wes Battoclette

Cincinnati is a city of people who are proud of their communities, sports teams and culture. They’re also proud of the homegrown businesses that define the city in many ways. Everyone has their favorite chili parlor, bakery and restaurants. Embedded in this culture is one hometown staple that steals the spotlight again and again: Graeter’s Handcrafted Ice Cream. 

The Cincinnati-born company has grown to nearly 50 stores spanning from Dayton to Louisville and Lexington since opening almost a century and a half ago. In every location, the same French pot-crafted ice cream, originated by founders Louis and Regina Graeter, is scooped and presented to customers. But even the most traditional companies must embrace change over time.

“Stores need to be refreshed every five years or so, and then every 15 to 20 years they’ll need more substantial updates,” says Richard Graeter, CEO of the family business. “That’s just a fact of life.” 

Now, Graeter’s is doing just that while gearing up for bigger things in the meantime. While many hometown locations, some dating back to 1922, will get facelifts, Cincinnatians can rest assured they’ll soon be able to snag a cone of their favorite ice cream elsewhere in the country, too. 

“On average, we open three new stores a year,” says Graeter. But the company is also looking for more opportunities to open parlors in cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh or Charlotte. 

Although Graeter’s distinctive tubs grace the shelves of grocery stores in all those locations, Graeter says the company wants to bring the full experience to those areas as well. 

“The retail sales in an area do substantially better when we have a scoop shop there,” he says. “People’s personal experience with us strengthens the brand. We create ice cream for connoisseurs, but the parlor is for customers to sit and enjoy ice cream with their families.” 

To help create this atmosphere, the structure of each Graeter’s parlor is crucial. Graeter’s is one of a very small list of parlors that embody a classic turn of the century feel – and hand-scoop each customized order. Graeter’s has put together a team to bring their expertise to new cities. The team, consisting of ArchitectsPlus, Bruce Robinson Design and HGC Construction, will work together to construct, conceptualize and design each new location from the inside out. “(ArchitectsPlus) understands the look and feel of our stores,” says Graeter. “They work great with our design company and general contractors.” 

Although the company is looking to expand beyond the Tristate for the first time, Graeter says the company isn’t looking to push further past the Midwest and Southeast. “I don’t see a nationwide expansion happening as long as I’m in charge,” he says. “We’re not looking for fast growth or franchising.”

While the company is studying expansion and preparing for renovations, one thing won’t change. “We haven’t changed the way we make ice cream in 120 years,” says Graeter. “We’re now the last in the world to make it that way – everything about our company is very classic.” 

When asked why the company still crafts their product using such an old-fashioned method, Graeter laughs. “You’d have to ask great-grandma Regina. She was too stubborn to change her methods back then and we’ve been that stubborn ever since.”

ArchitectsPlus is located at 10816 Millington Court, Cincinnati, OH 45242. You can reach them at 513.984.1070 or visit their website at www.architectsplus.com.