Iconic Central Coast ice cream shop plans 100 new parlors. Sacramento, Fresno top the list

A much-loved Central Coast ice cream maker wants to open 100 new shops across California by 2026, company leaders announced Wednesday, starting with three in Sacramento this year and hopefully others in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley in 2020.

Arroyo Grande-based Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab — known for flavors like Merlot Raspberry Truffle and Motor Oil — has long had aspirations of transforming itself into a national name like Ben and Jerry’s.

Now, it says it’s poised to take the next big first step.

New CEO Michael Boyer and co-founder and Board Chair Greg Steinberger told The Tribune in San Luis Obispo that they hope the Central Coast brand will start getting statewide and eventually national recognition in the coming years.

“Since its inception, the goal has been to be a nationwide brand,” Steinberger said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve been a bit slow with that, but a lot of businesses are. But we are getting to that point in the business cycle now where it starts to ramp up and we can get started growing.”

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in San Luis Obispo. Joe Johnston

Sacramento, Fresno and beyond

According to Steinberger, a big factor in the company’s latest push for expansion was the investment of Sacramento-based Aulon Arch Inc. in recent years. The small business investment firm was integral in the hiring of Boyer and the decision to grow Doc Burnstein’s into Sacramento, Steinberger said.

“They are really a like-minded investment firm,” Steinberger said.

How much the company invested into Doc Burnstein’s was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Boyer said the company has laid the groundwork and is ready to push toward its target of opening 100 new shops around the state by 2026.

Boyer and Steinberger said the company is currently in lease negotiations to open the first Doc Burnstein’s in California’s capital city in the coming months, though they declined to share the specific details around that store until everything was finalized.

Docs ice cream flavors
Flavors offered at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande include, top from left, Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Doc’s Java, Caramel X-plosion and Merlot Raspberry Truffle, plus, bottom from left, Motor Oil, Mint Fudge Oreo, Butter Brickle and Sea Salt Caramel. David Middlecamp

“It’s a beautiful opportunity,” Steinberger said, while declining further details pending a grand opening announcement.

They are also looking at two other locations in Sacramento for other shops to open this year, Boyer said.

Next year, they plan to add five additional new stores: Steinberger said those could be in the San Joaquin Valley area (Fresno and its Valley counterparts have long been a target for him because of brand recognition among visitors to the Central Coast) or in the Bay Area and Northern California.

Steinberger said all new Doc Burnstein’s would remain dedicated to the community through scholarships and public service, just like his Central Coast shops.

“We are really focused on being a benefit to the community,” he said. “One of the foundational elements of this road is that we do not lose that.”

Central Coast roots

“We want Doc Burnstein’s to be No. 1 in the hearts and minds of America. When they think of ice cream, we want them to think Doc Burnstein’s,” said Greg Steinberger, founder of Doc Burnstein’s. David Middlecamp

Ultimatley, the company wants to expand what started as a Central Coast sweet shop into a national household name.

The ice cream chain began in Arroyo Grande in 2003; roughly a decade later, Steinberger laid his eyes on a larger audience.

He first offered public shares in the company in 2013 and again in 2017 to help grow the business beyond San Luis Obispo County; he also later opened a production facility in Grover Beach in 2016 that allowed it to double its ice cream production.

The company currently has three stand-alone parlors: its flagship in Arroyo Grande, one in downtown San Luis Obispo that opened in 2014 and another in Santa Maria that opened in 2018.

The ice cream is also available in “scoop shops” (mini versions of the stand-alone parlors) around the Central Coast — and it’s been available in Fresno at Chosen Yogurt since 2017.

Steinberger previously told The Tribune that he hoped to transform the business into a household name, akin to Ben and Jerry’s.

“We want Doc Burnstein’s to be No. 1 in the hearts and minds of America,” he told The Tribune in an interview in April 2017. “When they think of ice cream, we want them to think Doc Burnstein’s.”

Ice cream tourism and head-of-household jobs

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in San Luis Obispo. Joe Johnston

Even as it expands into a statewide and then national name, both Steinberger and Boyer said the company will continue to operate out of the Central Coast.

Boyer said they plan to keep most or all of their production in San Luis Obispo County. Currently the business produces 75,000 gallons (roughly 1.4 million scoops) of ice cream per year.

As the brand grows, Boyer said he anticipates the Central Coast, and their South County production facility in particular, becoming a destination for ice cream tourists — people who want to see a production facility and exactly how Doc Burnstein’s ice cream gets made, he said.

Boyer said he anticipates the expanded company will be a large source of head-of-household jobs in the county, even helping to ease some of the loss of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach in 2025.

Toward that end, the business is opening its first corporate office in downtown San Luis Obispo in April. That location will have space for about 15 to 20 employees, including the business’s corporate support team and executives.

“We want to be a nationwide brand,” Steinberger said, “But we also want the heart of this business to be right here on the Central Coast.”

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.