John Gill opened his namesake ice cream shop at 6660 Lone Tree Way in Brentwood in 2007 on the premises of simplicity, value and taste. Gill has been in the ice cream business for roughly 20 years, operating a family-owned business and later a Baskin-Robbins before opting to become independent about three years ago.
The $1 scoops are hearty and delicious, something casual ice cream lovers might not expect from servings that inexpensive. Gill said some ice cream shops offer the first scoop for a dollar and charge full price for subsequent scoops. But he can do better.
“I thought running $2.50 or $2.60 a scoop was not affordable to families,” Gill said. “We can still make a good quality product. With the other offerings that we have (such as milkshakes and ice cream cakes), the return is still there.”
One thing that sets John’s Ice Cream shop apart is the fact that it makes about 80 percent of its own ice cream on site. Gill, who was born in Thailand but has also lived in India and Canada, is eclectic about what goes into those white frozen tubs. He takes ingredients from all over the country to give customers the best quality.
Among the roughly 35 flavors the shop keeps ready to enjoy, Gill said the best-selling ones are strawberry cheesecake, rocky road and cookies and cream. “Even though it’s a dollar a scoop, the quality is there,” Gill said. “The people who notice the quality immediately are the kids. They’ll notice the difference in the ice cream a lot quicker than the adults because that’s the kind of product they have every day.”
Gill believes in serving only the finest product. Whereas most ice cream contains 12 percent butterfat, Gill uses a super-premium 16 percent butterfat ice cream – what you’d find in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs.
Gill and wife Neeta are experienced entrepreneurs. Earlier in life, John managed a family-owned frozen yogurt shop in Sacramento. Later, he bought two Baskin-Robbins franchises – one in Pittsburg, another in Concord. He sold those in 2007 because of the instability of the ownership above him. Frustrated with the constant changes, Gill decided to sell the two Baskin-Robbins stores, branch out and start his own shop.
Though it was a risky move, he felt that Brentwood’s location was ideal and would make for an easy transition. In 2009, Gill opened up a shop at 2204 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, about a block from the University of California campus.
“We can draw customers from all different cities,” Gill said. “It seemed like Lone Tree Way and that intersection was pretty active. … Oakley has a lot of room to grow, Antioch has a lot of room to grow, Brentwood has a lot of room to grow, so there’s great long-term value there.”
Gill, who lives in Clayton, is hoping to pass the business on to the next generation. His son, nieces and nephews are still in school, but they’re welcome to eventually follow in his footsteps and wield the scoop.
“It’s the kind of business where it will remain family oriented,” Gill said. “If they enjoy it, then they’ll join in.”