An ice cream shop with glass cases of creamy flavors, colored sprinkles and fudgy toppings is the foundation of many happy childhood memories. And when Patrick and Mimi Conrey take a seat at D'Lites Emporium in Spring Hill, neither is concerned they are throwing away their typically healthy habits for a sinful childhood indulgence.
The couple visits the shop regularly and orders anything from a cup of chocolate raspberry ice cream to a pre-packaged container of an amazing blend of flavors the couple shares. Yet they walk away guilt free because D'Lites Emporium ice cream is part of a healthy lifestyle.
D'Lites ice cream is made from skim milk with natural lactose to sweeten it, so it has fewer calories, fewer carbohydrates, and less fat than other ice cream.
Yet it maintains all the characteristics of ice cream that make the treat such an indulgence. Texture and flavor are nearly identical.
D'Lites Emporium opened in the Barclay Crossing shopping center five years ago with a new concept to healthier ice cream alternatives. Owners Erin and Addison Sullivan had some history with the concept. Erin's sister owned a store in the Tampa Bay area that was doing well.
It was a cheaper startup than other franchised ice cream or frozen yogurt options and a better choice since the product was, in fact, real ice cream. So the couple began the process of opening their own store in Hernando County where there was nothing like it within a comfortable distance.
"We were the crazy ones," Erin Sullivan said, signing the paperwork and finalizing the store when the economy flattened in October 2008. But all the groundwork had been laid and the store was projected to open later that year. There was no turning back.
The store officially opened on Dec. 9, 2008.
D'Lites Emporium not only survived the startup years at a time when many grounded businesses were struggling to stay afloat, they actually remained steady.
"It's a great product," Erin Sullivan said. D'Lites Emporium is still thriving despite other presumably healthy ice cream options moving in and eventually closing down.
The ride hasn't been without a few bumps and potholes, she said. But for the most part, the store has managed to remain in-tact and grow by catering to a health-conscious society that doesn't want to give up on sweets.
"It's ice cream," Erin Sullivan said. "It has all the products of traditional ice cream, made with very little skim milk, and lactose for natural sweetness."
The chocolate has only 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Vanilla has just 6 grams.
Every flavor the store offers begins with a chocolate or vanilla base.
"The chocolate and vanilla have never had any peanuts in it or dyes in it" so those with food allergies can eat it, Erin Sullivan said. And most nutrition plans approve D'Lites Emporium ice creams.
The store has quite a menu of flavor options, offered at different times, and loyally followed by a strong influx of dedicated fans through daily postings on Facebook. Flavors like Milky Way and Orange Creamsicle are popular, among an extended list of other options. And they always have chocolate and vanilla available.
D'Lites Emporium is a family business. Erin's father, Ernie Chatman, runs the store while she is home raising 2-year old twins. She misses the daily running of the store and how she would engage with customers who became very good friends.
"They all knew our struggles with starting a family," she said. Now she manages the store behind the scenes and Chatman runs the daily operations with a dedicated team.
D'Lites Emporium also offers cakes and pies and individual- and family-sized ice cream containers to go. Custom cakes are available as well.
D'Lites Emporium was started by a couple in 1982 in Plantation Florida. It is still "going strong and in the same location," boasts the company website.
As long as there is a health-conscious society consumers will continue to demand products that meet their standards. D'Lite Emporium, in its sixth year in Spring Hill, is proof that indulgence in the classic ice cream treat isn't a thing of the past or left to childhood fantasy.
"We'll definitely be back," said Patrick Conrey as he made creative swirls with his spoon into the smooth chocolate raspberry treat. And Mimi agreed.
Contact Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at email@example.com.