Something cool is about to open at 200 Commerce St. in Old Town Alexandria. Real cool. Frozen, even. A cute little building that once stored blocks of ice has been transformed into a frozen custard shop called Goodies.
“I think I found the right guy,” said the seller, Boyd Walker. “I’m glad I sold it to him.”
“It’s kind of like executing someone else’s vision,” said the buyer, Brandon Byrd.
You may have seen Brandon’s food truck, Gigi, around the D.C. area. It’s a 1952 Metro van he fixed up, adorned with his red Goodies logo and put into service as a roving custard dispenser in 2012. In 2019, he added a three-wheel Prosecco van to his stable.
But what Brandon really wanted was a place of his own. He’d rented retail space at National Harbor and in the Agriculture Department building on the National Mall, but he wanted more.
“I wanted to make Goodies a legacy brand,” he said. “You need to own your real estate.”
His stepfather had owned a junkyard in Northern California, where he was able to make his own decisions about his business.
“My family in Alabama is still on the family farm,” Brandon said. And he’d seen an interview with Virginia Ali from Ben’s Chili Bowl about weathering the pandemic.
“She said they were able to survive because they own the building,” he said.
Brandon searched for eight years for the right spot.
“I looked at Richmond, Hyattsville, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Brentwood, Takoma Park,” he said. “I looked at a hair salon on upper Georgia Avenue, near Silver Spring. I couldn’t find anything.”
Then he found this little brick building that faces the street at an odd angle and has three letters set into its art deco facade: “I C E.”
“Once I saw ‘Ice,’ I said, ‘This is interesting. What is it?’ ”
What it is — or was — was a satellite location of the Mutual Ice Co., founded in 1900 when ice barons William M. Reardon and J.W. Hammond joined forces.
MICO, as it was known, grew to include an operation on Alexandria’s wharf and a plant on North Henry Street that pumped water from artesian wells and was capable of making 60,000 tons a year. Another plant near Potomac Yards produced enough ice to load 700 tons a day onto railroad cars carrying perishable goods up and down the East Coast.
This gelid past appealed to Brandon, who loves old things. He found a kindred spirit in Boyd Walker. Boyd’s been known to turn to someone when walking past the Colonial-era ice well next to Gadsby’s Tavern and say, “Did you know that this is where Americans invented cold beer? Right here.”
Since the 1970s, the ice house had been owned by a plumbing company that stored equipment in the tiny front yard. Boyd saw some potential and bought the 300-square-foot building in 2004.
“When I bought it there was still cork on the walls to insulate it for the ice,” he said.
Boyd hoped to transform it into a gelato shop. But he realized he’d either have to learn to make gelato himself or partner with an existing gelateria. Five or six years ago, Brandon got in touch, hoping to persuade Boyd to part with it.
“He said, ‘Meet me at the ice house and we’ll drink beer,’ ” Brandon said. “I brought a six-pack. He gave me a tour and said, ‘I’m not ready to sell it.’ I said, ‘Keep me in mind.’ ”
The two stayed in touch.
“We built a genuine friendship,” Brandon said.
In 2019, Boyd decided to sell 200 Commerce St. to Brandon, who expected to open the following spring.
And then the pandemic hit. The office workers Brandon counted on for his food truck business were no longer in their offices.
“I think a lot of people expected me to fail,” he said.
“So he’s been mowing his mother’s lawn,” said Boyd.
And working on the building, which is now an inviting shade of blue. Brandon’s brother-in-law, Fred Graves, did nearly all of the renovation work. Artist Matt McMullen painted the outside with cool lettering and a portrait of an ice worker.
On April 17, Brandon announced on Instagram — he’s at @mmmgoodies — that he was hosting a garden day to beautify the yard in front of the shop, which includes flower-filled planters made from galvanized stock tanks.
“Most of the stuff — soil, rocks, flowers — was brought by the community,” he said.
“They weren’t even selling ice cream,” Boyd marveled.
Goodies should be open in time for Memorial Day.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.