People, history, perspectives—there’s more to these soft-serve delights than the sum of their ingredients.
During the early days of COVID-19, I found myself driving out to the hiking trails in Johnson County to avoid the lethargy-inducing madness of a locked-down Kansas City. Just south of I-435 on State Line Road, I took heart in seeing a new building on the Missouri side actively under construction, despite the lockdown.
When I realized that the building would be a stand-alone shop that sold only frozen-custard products, I began to wonder whether this was itself a form of madness. A stand-alone custard shop in the age of COVID? Of all the businesses in Kansas City, Andy’s Frozen Custard became my barometer for America’s future.
I have long had a weakness for custard. For years, when the weather permitted, I would walk to the Plaza at noon and eat my daily ration of frozen custard at a small table outside a small shop on Ward Parkway, “Cherry’s” by name. The custard was my lunch.
If custard tastes better than ice cream, it is because it has more butterfat, which makes the product creamier when churned slowly. Fortunately, Cherry’s did not post calories on the menu. When it comes to eating, ignorance is bliss. I knew intuitively that the custard had enough calories to sustain me until dinner. I did not need to know any more than that.
There is something communal about eating custard—or any ice cream product, for that matter. I found myself reminiscing recently about Charley, the entrepreneur who drove his ice cream truck down our 100-kid-strong street every spring and summer evening. At the sound of his bells, everyone came out and came together. I still remember all the options, especially the space age “torpedo” whose ice cream rose, as deodorant does, when pushed from below.
Cherry’s was communal, as well. Sitting outside, people often stopped by. I remember meeting political guru Jeff Roe at the shop. Now running Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, he was a smaller shot than I at the time, smaller at least in influence. He had to come to me for a custard sit-down. Now? I’d be surprised if he took my phone call.
One afternoon, soon after his re-election defeat, Mark Funkhouser stopped by. When he sat down to talk, I laughed. “You have completed my trifecta of the fallen.” I explained that earlier that morning, I had spoken successively to former Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline.
These three men were, respectively, Kansas’s bravest attorney general, the city’s most sensible mayor in memory, and the diocese’s most saintly bishop—probably ever. That they were then not only “formers” but pariahs gave me cause to worry about Kansas City’s future.
At Cherry’s, I would occasionally see people of consequence. One day, for instance, Kansas City-born actor Chris Cooper walked by. He was alone. I thought of inviting him to sit down for some custard—my treat—but my history schooled me not to.
One evening, years earlier, I passed Grandpa Munster on a street in Westport. Bizarrely, I remembered his name. “Al Lewis,” I said as though he were Dr. Livingstone and I, Henry Stanley. He looked at me as if I were deranged—I had merely been drinking—and kept on walking. After that, I chose to leave celebrities alone.
I worried about the future of Cherry’s as I would about Andy’s. I could see that the Pakistani couple who owned and ran the place were struggling—seasonal shops seemed so fragile in deep-winter towns. It was a battle they were destined to lose, which, sadly enough, they did.
In the days post-pandemic, I find myself worrying about all businesses, small businesses in particular. Driving past Andy’s, I reflexively looked to see how they were doing, especially during the custard unfriendly winter. To my relief, they seem to have found their market.
Andy’s, it turns out, is not so small a business. In fact, it is one of the great Missouri success stories of recent years. In 1986, John and Carol Kuntz opened their first shop in Osage Beach and named the business after their son.
With his name already on the shop, Andy put his muscle into it. Originally from Raytown, Andy and his high school sweetheart, Dana, learned they could work together when scooping out custard for Mom and Dad.
A hit at the Lake, the family expanded into Springfield in 1987 and remains headquartered there to this day. John died in 2008, but by the time of his death, the operation had already begun its move beyond Missouri. Today, Andy, wife Dana, and mom Carol own and/or franchise some 140 shops in 14 states from North Carolina to Arizona.
I was well into this article when it dawned on me that my only connection with Andy’s was worrying about it. Eating there, I realized, might just add a touch of authenticity. So venture there I did on a soft summer night.
The Andy’s on State Line looks like the kind of place at which the Jetsons would have hung out, the future as envisioned in the past, all glass and garish light, as subtle as a traveling carnival. You can’t miss it. You can either walk up or drive through, but you can’t really hang out there—no tables inside or out. That may be Andy’s defense against the sporadic madness of today’s Kansas City.
As part of my journalistic commitment, I went whole hog, ordering a Triple Chocolate Concrete. I gained 3 pounds just reading the description, “Andy’s chocolate frozen custard blended with chocolate chip cookie dough and melted chocolate chip.”
The result was as decadent as promised, each spoonful a venial sin. I stopped after about six to save my waistline and my immortal soul. But Andy, please, we do not need to know the calorie count!