If you’re indecisive when it comes to ordering dessert, brace yourself for the flavors of palate-pleasers before entering Grassroots Ice Cream. Located across from Granby’s center green, what once was the town’s general store and post office has been transformed into a quaint ice cream shop modeled after a Vermont café. Inside, the smell of freshly made waffle cones permeates the air. Brightly colored printed cups that can hold one to a whopping three scoops sit atop the counter. Walls of reclaimed wood surround guests licking mountains of ice cream. A large chalkboard menu behind the counter greets guests as they walk in, boasting unique flavors: lemon poppy seed cake, boysenberry jasmine, goat cheese blackberry, and so on. You’re bound to let the person who came in after you go ahead before making a tasty decision.
Eliza Florian, dressed in a light blue floral shirt, walks into the room smiling, her attention sprinkled across the shop. She runs the business with her husband, Lee. Her bright blue eyes dart from me to the front of the shop, and then to the back, then finally to me again. She faces the ice cream counter, every so often losing her train of thought and turning to observe the workers. She continues to keep careful watch over her livelihood before directing her attention back to our conversation.
The shop’s name stems from a family tragedy. In 2008, their youngest son, Joshua, passed away from Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). He was two years old. ALD is a rare genetic disorder and is fatal, but it can be treated early in its stages with diet and medication if an infant is tested at birth. At the time, Connecticut did not require screening for ALD. After the incident, the Florians and other families that were affected by ALD banded together to urge state politicians to hear their stories, and to introduce a bill that required Connecticut health care institutions to screen newborns for the disorder to save lives and save more families from heartbreak and grief. It took a total of fours years to get the bill passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, and on July 2, 2013, Governor Dannel Malloy signed it into law.
“On the day the bill passed, one of the politicians turned to me and said, ‘Thanks for your grassroots efforts,’ ” Florian explains. “And it was a month before the bill had passed that the for rent sign went up [on this property], and a day after the bill passed, we opened Grassroots.”
Grassroots is a family affair. The two self-taught ice cream enthusiasts dove into their first entrepreneurship with the help of their children. “We decided to open up, and made a lot of mistakes, but you just had to do it or you failed. And failing wasn’t an option,” Florian says. She bought instructional books, surfed the Internet a ton and learned through trial and error to figure out what worked and what didn’t through batches of ice cream.
“The store has the vibe of a community and a vibe of someone that put it together with their hands,” Florian says. They used reclaimed wood from old house renovations and demolition sites to transform Granby’s Old General Store into Grassroots. In 2018 the Florians expanded, opening Deep Roots Street Food in the same building. Deep Roots is a homage to the American melting pot, serving up flavors from different countries, like the banh mì from Vietnam, the Turkish berliner, which is their version of German doner kebab, and much more.
Grassroots’ ice cream is made with local dairy products from farms in both Connecticut and Massachusetts. The store uses all natural extracts and no artificial coloring. “I can always taste artificial flavoring and artificial color. I figured if I can taste them, other people could too,” Florian explains. The store’s website currently lists over 150 flavors of ice cream in rotation. “I love looking up foods of different cultures. Specifically, the kinds of sweets that people in different cultures like to eat and then make ice cream flavors out of that inspiration,” Florian says, looking up from her yellow notepad as the front doorbells chime and a customer walks in.
People come all the way from Massachusetts and Southern Connecticut to sample her ice cream. There is never a guarantee for what flavors Grassroots will offer on any given day. “Grassroots is a great ice cream shop. It’s nice to be able to try unique flavors you can’t find elsewhere,” says Simsbury resident Eric Vo. “It feels good to support local businesses in our community.”
During peak summer months, the shop scoops over thirty flavors, and the selection is always changing. “I feel comfortable that we’re always serving something delicious. I just want to give people a unique experience,” Florian says. Mouthwatering flavors such as maple bacon, coconut cashew caramel, and lemon ginger sell out as fast as they’re scooped.
You must come taste for yourself. “I just want to give people a unique experience, and I raise my children not to be afraid to explore new flavors and cultures,” Florian says. “I think it’s nice to give people the variety and let them explore different things.” Suddenly, she jumps up and peers over to the ice cream counter, no employee in sight. “Liz, customer!”
Grassroots is located at 4 Park Place in Granby, CT and is open Monday- Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed on Sundays. https://www.grassrootsicecream.com
Headline Photo courtsey of Grassroots Ice Cream.
Cynthia Le is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.