Just Ice Cream had evolved from a small space downtown to a larger storefront and had grown quite a following from the spring of 2019 to 2021. However, owners Tia and Jonathan Wind wanted to get out of the business. Just when Benton residents were getting used to an old-fashioned ice cream shop downtown, it was going to close. 

Enter Sally Mengel. The owner of Loblolly Creamery in Little Rock bought the business and brought the unique Loblolly brand to Saline County.

 Loblolly had already been in downtown Benton—sort of. Just Ice Cream had sold an array of the Little Rock creamery’s unique flavors.

 “Tia and Jonathan were a partner of ours, and they moved and offered for us to take over, and it was just a good fit,” Mengel said. 

 The transition has been seamless, and Loblolly’s combination of creative flavors and other products has been a hit with patrons who enjoy a vibrant downtown Benton scene that now includes several restaurants. Mengel said many end their nights after dinner at those establishments with dessert at Loblolly. 

 “Downtown Benton is a great place,” Mengel said. “It’s thriving with those restaurants, and we are just trying to keep what Jon Tia created, going. By the time we took over, all those restaurants were already here.”

 What you’ll find that is different from most ice cream shops is that all the Loblolly products are made from scratch, using natural products and fewer artificial flavors. There are homemade macarons, and hot chocolate mixes, and marshmallows, and vegan ice cream, and even gluten-free cones. 

 “We make everything from scratch: the base is made from milk and cream and sugar and local honey,” Mengel said. “That makes us unique. We use as many locally grown products as possible. We have several local partners. You can taste that quality in our products. It is Philadelphia-style ice cream and has a different texture from what you find in the grocery store. We don’t have those add-ins that are supposed to make the shelf life one or two years.” 

 Among the local partners are Barnhill Farms of Lonoke, which supplies the strawberries for the popular strawberries and buttermilk ice cream. Another is Rock Town Distillery. The Rock Town bourbon pecan is also a favorite. 

 Loblolly makes some unusual flavors, too, like pickle sorbet and honey lavender made from lavender cream. The first flavor Loblolly sold was buttermilk for the Arkansas Cornbread festival. Loblolly has even featured a cheese dip ice cream in honor of the World Cheese Dip Championship held in Little Rock.

 “We do tiny batches in our test kitchen and try to take people out of their comfort zones,” Mengel said. “We offer samples, so we want to start a conversation and encourage people to try something new.”

 Loblolly Benton patrons will notice that select flavors’ proceeds go to certain non-profit charities. That is also a priority of Mengel’s, “to give back to the community.”

 In July, Loblolly will partner with food blogger Kevin Shalan (TheMightyRib) to produce Arkansas Bourbon Caramel Peach Compote, with proceeds benefitting the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

 Loblolly began in 2009 when Mengel was working at the Green Corner store in Little Rock. The downtown drug store wanted to start selling ice cream, so Mengel, who worked in an ice cream shop and took ice cream courses, developed her own product. 

 “[Owner Shelly Green] wanted to open a soda fountain, so she had me take it over,” Mengel said. “She wanted to sell a local product but couldn’t find it, so I started making it.”

By 2011, Loblolly Creamery was born and took Little Rock’s SoMa neighborhood by storm.

 Mengel partnered with her mother, Laura Frankenstein, to open the business, and they didn’t stop there. Even before they moved to Benton, they had already established an operation distributing Loblolly products to grocers from Texarkana to Springfield, Missouri. 

 “We have evolved over time and are really grateful to how supportive and loyal Arkansas has been,” Mengel said. “We also have a great team.”

 Mengel is quick to point out that team, too, now 50 strong. 

 “We still have a lot of the same people who were here from the beginning,” Mengel said. “We all work together. We started out small and have evolved and gotten bigger. It is kind of like having six businesses under one roof.

 “In Benton, we have a shop manager and some scoopers. We have good customer service.”

 Looking ahead, Mengel is hoping to add outdoor seating in the back of the building. That project is in the works. The already spacious location is a great place to host birthday parties, Mengel said. The additional space will only enhance the experience. 

 Mengel is looking forward to a bright future for the company’s latest location.

 “Jon and Tia did well creating a great space, and we were honored to take over and be a great addition to this city,” Mengel said. “We are just trying to get the word out, and we look forward to being in Benton.”