June 12, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.
PEOPLE MOVING PRODUCT
A Milwaukee tradition
“We’ve been here a long time, and this place is very nostalgic to people,” Willy said. “Gilles Frozen Custard is the first stop some people make after coming back from the airport and their first stop before going to the airport.”
Tom echoed Willy’s sentiments.
“Some people come here more than once a day,” Tom said. “It’s very humbling.”
Gilles Frozen Custard was started by Paul Gilles, who in the beginning served vanilla custard, hot dogs and root beer from a walk-up window from March through November. Gilles Frozen Custard was not the first custard stand in the state, but it is the longest running. While other custard stands have come and gone, Gilles Frozen Custard remains a fixture in the community, celebrating 85 years in business.
Tom began working at Gilles Frozen Custard in 1975. His dad, Robert, who worked at the custard stand since 1942, purchased the business from Paul in 1976. In 1978, a lobby was added to the building, and Gilles Frozen Custard became a year-round destination.
Tom and his brother, Patrick, bought the restaurant from their parents in 1992. When Patrick passed away, Tom bought his brother’s portion of the business. Tom’s brother, Bob, also works at the business. Willy came on board in 2013 and is the third generation in his family to own and operate Gilles Frozen Custard.
The business is known for its classics – frozen custard in cones, dishes, pints, quarts and party tubs as well as sundaes, shakes, malts, floats, specialty custard pies and novelty treats. Gilles Frozen Custard also sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, homemade sloppy joes, French fries, cheese curds, fish fries, grilled cheese and more.
The frozen custard recipe begins with Gilles Frozen Custard’s patented mix, an original recipe of Willy’s grandfather, which contains a high level of butterfat. The custard is then made fresh on-site into thick and creamy flavors.
In addition to favorites like vanilla and chocolate, Gilles Frozen Custard offers a variety of tempting flavors from Monkey Madness and Mocha Tiramisu to flavors modeled after liquor, such as their Jameson Whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream flavors. The Linscotts also created a tequila custard once for a wedding.
“The sky’s the limit for flavors of the day,” Tom said.
The stand’s most popular flavors are butter pecan and turtle.
“Those are classics in our communities,” said Willy, who also has flavors named after his four children.
London’s Lemondrop, named for his daughter, is a lemon custard blended with lemon meringue. Chocolate lovers will find happiness at Gilles Frozen Custard with flavors like chocolate candy bar crunch, chocolate decadence and heavenly chocolate.
“Add chocolate to anything, and it moves,” Tom said.
The stand is known for its fancy sundaes, like the Zombie, which Willy describes as “a banana split and then some.” On top of a heap of custard are bananas, marshmallows, strawberries, pineapples, jimmies, chopped nuts, hot fudge and pecans.
From its owners to their loyal employees and customers, Gilles Frozen Custard brings families together.
“Working here is a family tradition,” Tom said. “There are grandkids of people I used to work with who work here now.”
Gilles Frozen Custard has 40 employees, including many long-term people. Husbands and wives, siblings, and mothers and their children work together where a busy summer day can draw a couple thousand people. Located 1.8 miles from American Family Field where the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball, Gilles Frozen Custard attracts many fans after games as well as other events.
The Linscotts encourage input from their employees, and Tom said their workers come up with many good ideas.
“We’ve built an environment where people feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table,” Tom said. “They might say, ‘What if we did this?’ And Willy and I will say, ‘Let’s try it.’ Our people are important.”
Working at the custard stand was not the job either Linscott originally envisioned for himself.
“I was going to go in the trades after high school and get a real job,” Tom said. “But, my dad had remodeled the place, and he told me three things he could guarantee about working here: There will always be work, you’ll never go hungry, and you’ll never be rich. That sounded good to me, so I decided to stay.”
Growing up, Willy also had dreams of working elsewhere.
“Watching my dad do it, I was very adamant (I was) not going to do this,” Willy said. “I went to college and had another job for a while, but I came back because my heart was still in it. ‘What’s going to happen to the business if it’s outside of the family?’ I wondered. There is untapped potential here – a lot of people don’t know the story or our legacy.”
Willy has dressed the walls with details of the company’s history that illustrate the progression of Gilles Frozen Custard from the day it started up to today.
The quaint custard stand offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Not long before the coronavirus pandemic started, the Linscotts also put in a phone-in pickup window.
“That window saved us,” Tom said. “The business that went through the window was unbelievable.”
The Linscotts also cater for weddings, parties, funerals and company events. In total,
Gilles Frozen Custard sells about 15,000 gallons of custard each year.
“The dairy industry is vital to our business,” Willy said. “We’re so dependent on it. Dairy makes up 50% of our business.”
In addition to all the custard rolling out its doors, the restaurant also uses a lot of cheese, the Linscotts said.
“Through all of the supply issues we’ve faced the last few years, the dairy side has kept up with it,” Willy said. “Dairy is in our name. It would just be Gilles Frozen without it.”
The Linscotts are quick to point out that custard is not the same as ice cream, and they never use the terms interchangeably.
“The egg yolk solids in custard are slow melting,” Tom said. “Also, there is way less air whipped into custard. When you compare a pint of custard to a pint of ice cream – ours will drop the scale. It’s solid.”
To celebrate their 85th anniversary, Gilles Frozen Custard is having a customer appreciation party June 27 and July 4, providing food, games and other family-friendly activities.
“We’re doing a lot of specials and throwbacks this summer,” Willy said.
The iconic little stand on West Bluemound Road has grown over time while staying true to its roots.
“Gilles Frozen Custard has built a community identity as a taste of the neighborhood,” Willy said. “This is a good thing going for a long time, and thanks to the customers, we’re still here.”
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