Even in chilly February, customers sit at tables topped with fluted flower vases beside pearl-cast window trim at Ohio City’s Mitchell’s Ice Cream. The largest of nine exclusively northeast Ohio locations, the flagship houses the kitchen where it all comes together — service, community and flavorful imagination, a vision 23 years (and at least 75 flavors) in the making, scooping the CLE a sweet spot on Ohio’s ice cream pantheon.
Serving the Occasional Customer
On Oct. 6, 1999, brothers Pete and Mike Mitchell, then 27 and 22 years old, opened their first ice cream shop in Westlake. Perhaps owed to autumn weather, the space remained usually empty between serving “the occasional customer.” The brothers were present from open to close, returning at night to the one-bedroom apartment they shared down the street. “I think some of our customers felt bad for us because they thought ‘these guys aren’t gonna make it,’” says Mike.
A Name in Lights
“We had our cones and our mouths were open,” says Pete of the February 2001 Plain Dealer coverage that might have pedaled community interest, complete with an article about the young business and a sizable photo of the brothers. “It was a silly picture, but it caught people’s attention.” Yet the Mitchells attest promotion into Clevelanders' lexicon was largely gradual. By 2014, the once boarded-up Rialto Theater was renovated into an ice cream emporium. Inside, a glass wall separating the kitchen is like a page from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; patrons can watch the kitchen concoct their favorites from a second-floor balcony.
An Art, Science and Philosophy
Picking a favorite is impossible for both brothers. Pete lists Peanut Butter Cup, Cookies and Cream, Wild Berry Crumble and Toasted Pistachios among his elites, though admits to lately indulging in Swiss White Chocolate Chunk. “There’s an art to ice cream making, and there’s a science to it,” explains Mike, citing precision in texture, flavor and mouthfeel to reach “that perfect, platonic idea of ice cream that we can all imagine.”
Flavors and Fortitude
Each ice cream flavor has its niche of impassioned fans, something their new flavors, Vegan Buckeye (a peanut butter base ribboned with vegan fudge) and Vegan Chocolate Cookie Butter (a creamy blend of “many, many Oreos,” says Pete) have enjoyed since their February release. Despite a new Westlake shop in 2020 and a “handful” of fresh 2022 flavors, Pete and Mike are gracious and mindful, with full intentions to keep their business in Cleveland. “I don’t know where we’ll go in the next 20 years,” Mike says. “But I do know it’s going to be driven by the same values.”
Becky Boban is an assistant editor with Cleveland Magazine whose favorites are Cleveland history and Mitchell’s vegan pistachio.