The First Street Redevelopment Project meant that the area surrounding the shop was usually filled with more orange cones and detour signs than pedestrians. A couple businesses in its shopping plaza have closed since construction started, and I’ve spoken to at least one owner of a shop on Main Street who blamed the project for eliminating her walk-in clientele. (She’s since closed her doors.)
But a major part of that redevelopment project has been completed: A string of retail shops (topped by offices and a parking garage) that is drawing a crowd of shoppers and diners to the area just west of the Fox River south of Main Street.
It looks like the change has been very good for Gramp's, which is located in a shopping complex called Fox Island Square, just kiddy corner from that new retail development. My family visited at about 9 p.m. on a Friday night, and the place was very busy. It’s a good thing, too, because Gramp’s serves some creamy, delicious frozen custard.
The shop is decorated with antique glass milk bottles, cow statues and other dairy-related paraphernalia. It has wooden tables and chairs with wrought-iron backs like you might see in an old time soda-fountain 100 years ago – plus a miniature table and chair set for young children.
Gramp’s usually offers several flavors each day, and about two dozen topping choices. When we were there, the flavors were vanilla, chocolate, brown cow (a chocolate and vanilla mix), a caramel and Oreo mix and pomegranate. You can get them in a cone or cup, or a selection of waffles bowls and cups. A single scoop in a cone or cup will cost you $2.69 and two scoops $3.09; a bit pricy, but the scoops are generous.
You can also choose a sundae, a milkshake, malt, smoothie or frozen custard sandwich. The shop serves hotdogs and pizza slices. If you bring your dog, he’ll get a free frozen “dog cone,” too, although you’ll have to enjoy your treats outside, since pets aren’t allowed in the store.
Gramp’s was one of those places where the menu was so big that I couldn’t decide. So I asked the very friendly, young staff working the counter. They recommended “Granny’s Delight,” one of the premium sundaes, which features chocolate custard, hot fudge, raspberry sauce, homemade whipped cream, and chocolate chips. Yes, it was super rich, and I should have planned to share it with someone, but my husband and daughter had long since ordered by the time I made up my mind!
Note that Gramp's offers a cool (ha!) service for creating your own “custard social”: A Gramp's frozen custard cart and umbrella, complete with a server, and your choice of flavors. Call 630-762-9480 or stop by the store for more details.
The store’s hours are a bit unique: At least in the summer, it is open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. the rest of the week (this night owl loves that) but closed entirely on Thursday. I’ll try my best to update this with fall hours after Labor Day.
I know from reading about the ultimate plans for First Street that construction will likely eventually resume in the area. But for now, the traffic cones and detour signs have disappeared, and the charming downtown is hopping with some new businesses, including the Wok ‘n’ Fire stir fry and sushi restaurant, a boutique called “Jeans and a Cute Top Shop,” and several new salons.
So make a plan to visit downtown St. Charles while the weather is still warm to check it all out, and make sure to stop into Gramp's for a cup of custard. Like me, you’ll be glad they persevered!