Ari’s Ice Cream

The team of Ari’s Ice Cream Parlor & Cafe are Nelda Grandson, Damanda Vaughn, Arianna Sales, Allen Sales, Alyssa January, Roger Sales at their Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood location Tue. Aug. 16, 2023. 

The popular diner, “Goody Goody” on Natural Bridge near Goodfellow closed in 2019 after a fire. The establishment was a gathering place known for its hearty breakfasts and lunches and its menu of down-home “goodies” like pancakes, waffles, grits, salmon croquettes and its golden fried and honey glazed chicken.

A smaller establishment, Ari's Ice Cream Parlor & Café at 5572 Natural Bridge Ave., is starting to fill the communal void left by the more famous restaurant. Soon to celebrate its fifth anniversary, partners Allen Sales and Nelda Granderson are grappling with the cafe’s increasing popularity and possible need to expand.

Right now, there are five employees, consisting of family members and friends. What was meant to be a neighborhood ice cream parlor quickly morphed into a full-service restaurant and not necessarily by intention.

“My daughter Arianna (the cafe is named after her) and I used to make ice cream at the house,” Sales explained. “We had a residential ice cream-maker and made ice cream with milk, whipping cream, sugar, and our own flavors. After some experimenting, I talked to her about selling our product, maybe door-to-door.”

That idea changed after Sales, a professional plumber and owner of several properties, saw a discreet, brown, and red brick building for sale on Natural Bridge Avenue. Sales recruited Granderson who had lost her job of 16 years at Scottrade after TD Ameritrade Holding Corp acquired the company in 2016.

Granderson brought much-needed operating experience to the new venture. Her grandparents, Jo Alma & Herman Houston, founded and operated Diner’s Delight on the corners of Compton and Park Avenues in 1969. Granderson worked on and off at the buffet style restaurant throughout her youth and young adulthood.

There were certain basic principles Granderson borrowed from her grandparents.

“Treat people like they deserve to be treated; serve good food; have a nice, clean place and make sure customers feel welcome when they come through the door,” Granderson said, adding: “Do all that and the word will spread.”

An ice cream parlor in North St. Louis has exciting potential, Sales explained, but it also came with the downside of being a seasonal business.

“In response to that, we opened the café part thinking we’d sell coffee, tea, muffins and things like that, but customers started asking for breakfast, so we added a breakfast and lunch menu.”

After Goody Goody closed a year after Ari’s opened, Sales said more people started frequenting his place asking for breakfast. Granderson expanded the menu with reasonably priced items. For example, their breakfast burrito with eggs, turkey bacon, or turkey sausage- is only $6. Breakfast plates with two eggs, potatoes, toast, turkey, or bacon sausage cost $8.

Ari’s doesn’t sell pork products, but that’s not for religious reasons, Sales said. It’s because North St. Louis is saturated with unhealthy pork products and he simply wanted his Ari’s “to be different.”

Other items on the daily menu include French toast, waffles, salmon croquettes, steak melts, turkey burgers and soul food desserts like 7up Pound Cake, “Pineapple Delight” and banana pudding.

Like Goody Goody Diner used to be, Ari’s is becoming the new gathering place for St. Louisans of all stripes.

“We get policemen, firemen, city workers, people from the Pepsi plant, utility workers, neighborhood folk, teachers, principals,” Granderson said, adding that St. Louis public school’s new superintendent, Dr.Keisha Scarlett and her family visited the cafe recently.

Drop in any morning (Tues-Sat from 7am-5pm) and you’re liable to see people huddled in the small eatery having robust conversations and owners and workers greeting customers by their first names.

Sales, who blanketed the surrounding neighborhood with flyers and door-hangers before opening Ari’s, said he’s not surprised by the steady flow of customers. But, he added, he wishes he’d initially planned better.

“It’s still a challenge,” he explained. “The majority of people think we’re just an ice cream parlor. Even though ‘café’ is in our title, most people driving by only focus on the ice cream parlor part of our name.”

That “challenge” aside, Sales worries that he might not be able to manage Ari’s quick-growing traffic as more people realize they can come in and eat breakfast or lunch at the restaurant.

“We’re really not big enough to go out with a full-fledged restaurant,” Sales said. “So, we’re caught in a place where we don’t want to advertise too much and get to a place where we won’t be able to serve our existing customers well.”

He’s holding out hope that the city can help with his expansion plans.

Through its Community Development Administration, the City has allocated $37 Million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) for the administration of a North St. Louis Small Business & Non-Profit Grant Program. Administered through the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), North St. Louis small business-owners and nonprofits can apply for the city grants. Sales said he’s already applied.

If they are awarded a grant, Sales and Granderson said they have no intention of trying to replicate Goody Goody as far as size or scope.

“We want it to remain a neighborhood place,” Granderson explained. “We still want it to be a place where we can talk to our customers-which a lot of people aren’t used to. We don’t want to rush your order or push people out the door to get more customers in.

“We want to continue to show love, continue to be that unique and special ‘neighborhood place.'

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