Some might call Brandon Byrd, the founder and owner of Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats outside of Washington, old school. One look at the corner lot in Alexandria, Virginia, where Goodies dishes out Wisconsin-style vanilla-bean frozen custard from an old icehouse, and you’re thrown back to a different era:
First, there’s Byrd, wearing a bow tie, newsboy cap and suspenders, greeting customers. Then, the vintage license plates and old-timey signs punctuate the space. A gas pump from the 1950s, an old Coca-Cola cooler, and a giant, salvaged Big Boy restaurant statue with its checkered overalls and pompadour dot the landscape while speakers pump out rock ’n’ roll — tunes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
After spending his 20s and early 30s promoting live events with rap stars such as Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and Ludacris, Byrd, 44, said he was ready for “something that was gonna be wholesome and pure” that would harken back to the days of his childhood making vanilla custard with his mother for her Southern-style banana pudding.
That “something” got Goodies a top 5 in the nation nod from the Food Network a few years after he launched his business.
Before his corner lot, there was hip-hop
Byrd and his siblings were born in Decatur, Alabama. Their mother moved the family to California by the time Byrd reached junior high school. With his father no longer in the picture, the move coincided with his mother’s career with the federal government. It’s also where Byrd’s “entrepreneurial spirit” kicked in. After receiving a five-pound bag of gummy worm candy as a gift, rather than eating the candy, Byrd divided them up, placed them into 25 smaller bags and sold them for a dollar apiece. He used the profits to buy more candy and quickly became known to his classmates as “Candy Man.”
A promotion for his mother meant a move to Wisconsin, where Byrd attended high school and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He planned to work with pro athletes. While Byrd spent his days studying kinesiology, he began hosting off-campus house parties at night. He took the concept with him to the University of Kentucky in 2001, when he went to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration.
In Lexington, Kentucky, his business promotion parties “came to maturity,” he said. He began promoting live events with rappers Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and the hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. “I’m putting out 10,000 flyers, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I’m passing them out. I’m putting them on cars. I’m buying my own radio ads,” he recalled. He quickly realized he’d found his path into corporate America: He’d get sponsorships, offset his costs and continue to promote live events.
His side hustle launched his career “elevating” brands such as Bacardi liquor, Coors beer, Red Bull energy drink and Crown Royal Black whiskey, “within the multicultural landscape,” Byrd said. He worked in Chicago as a one-person “street team” with a corporate card, “partying with NBA players, rappers, the who’s who.” By 26, his new nickname was “Bacardi Brandon.”
At 29, with dreams of brand management for a spirit house, Byrd left Kentucky to study for an MBA at the University of Delaware. “People look at you more credibly when you have those degrees. It’s not that you’re better qualified,” he said.
He landed a business school internship with Coors, and worked with rapper Ludacris and reggae musician Ziggy Marley. Then, with his MBA in hand, Byrd was hired by Red Bull, where he parlayed his relationship with Ludacris into an eight-city Midwest tour before the album Theater of the Mind dropped in 2008. Soon, the magazine XXL hired him to produce shows and host parties with hip-hop’s biggest stars.
By 2011, Byrd said he was burned out and “at a reflection point.” While he still loved hip-hop, “I wanted to distance myself from it. It always felt like it was degrading to the Black community,” Byrd said.
“As much as I love hip-hop, one of the reasons I wanted to distance myself from it was it always felt like it was degrading to the Black community. When you listen to the music from the ’50s and ’60s, even ’70s, it talks about love, the fight, the struggle. [Hip-hop] was ‘I’m gonna kill you and everything under the sun.’ And so, I did not want that again.”
The birth of Goodies begins with Gigi
With his mother now older and working in Washington, Byrd moved to the area to be closer to her. He turned to his “ideation board” for inspiration. The board, which is still in his home office, is filled with sticky notes with handwritten thoughts and business ideas.
He wanted “a universal product that anyone could enjoy,” and kept returning to his childhood joys. While his three siblings played outside, Byrd was often in the kitchen. “ ‘Keep stirring. Don’t stir too fast. Don’t let it burn. Don’t let it curdle,’ ” he said his mother would tell him repeatedly. “I remember those words like it was yesterday,” he said with a smile. In the summer, he’d crank an ice cream machine by hand to make frozen custard for sarsaparilla floats. “I wanted something that really reflected my personality and my childhood experiences of being in the kitchen with my mom, around classic Americana.”
Byrd found that the Washington area’s food truck scene spoke to his craving for creative freedom. He liked the idea of a mobile business and hit the streets to talk to the chefs about their experiences. “It was attorneys who got burnout. It was scientists who got burnout. It was just people from myriad backgrounds who just were no longer interested in doing what they did and needed a change. And I felt like I was one of those guys.”
Sitting in front of his ideation board, he asked himself what he wanted to “communicate with his food truck,” he said.
And then he figured it out: He would “bring nostalgia” to Washington “in a credible way” so that people with different backgrounds, from tourists from all over the world to the residents of the Washington area (also from all over the world), could appreciate what he loved the most: the sweet taste of his childhood.
He found a 1950s-era International Harvester Metro Van in an Arizona junkyard and spent a year and $60,000 transforming “Gigi” into a “vintage soda fountain on wheels.” Byrd rented a commercial kitchen to make his sweets, including his savory caramel sauce and just one flavor of frozen custard: vanilla bean. In June 2012, Byrd and Gigi hit the “DMV,” the District, Maryland, Virginia. Four years later, the Food Network‘s Top 5 Restaurants show named Goodies the No. 4 food truck in the country. It was the only dessert truck on the list. Host Sunny Anderson declared Byrd’s Boogie Woogie Turtle Pecan Sundae, made with three scoops of vanilla bean frozen custard, caramel sauce, dark chocolate and crunchy salted butter pecans, “the sweetest, creamiest, richest dessert on four wheels.”
In 2018, after searching for years for a permanent location “with a Main Street America vibe,” Byrd finally found the home for his frozen custard shop — an old icehouse built in 1931 and originally owned by Mutual Ice Co. Abandoned for decades, everything about the 300-square-foot building screamed nostalgia. Not only was the word “ice” still visible on the fading facade, the corner lot was in a neighborhood called Old Town.
After spending most of the coronavirus pandemic rehabbing the icehouse with the help of friends and family, Byrd opened the doors in May 2021 with one employee, Rozell Moore, (affectionately known as Uncle Ro), and three summer interns.
Now Byrd churns his frozen custard in the former icehouse. He’s still making only one flavor using heavy cream that boasts 40% butterfat, eggs and a secret vanilla mixture. He’s up at 5 a.m. and doesn’t stop until he’s made at least 10 gallons, sometimes more if he has a catering gig with Gigi. The food truck remains 50% of his business. Byrd gets his pecans from a small Georgia farm, vanilla from one of the oldest family-owned vanilla families in the country and all of his dairy products from a farm in the Chesapeake region.
Goodies has become a fixture in the community and the corner a prized communal space since opening day three years ago. With the help of neighbor volunteers, large galvanized steel containers have been placed in the seating area and are blooming with colorful flowers. Last month, Goodies won the city of Alexandria’s 2023 Commercial Beautification Award.
All season long, lines for Goodies’ frozen custard wind around the block, giving customers ample time to weigh their menu options. Among their choices are The Big Apple, also known as a Custardwich, a homemade cinnamon sugar-topped apple cider cake doughnut stuffed with vanilla bean frozen custard and drizzled caramel; The Johnny B Goode, a shake made with Southern-style banana pudding and vanilla Wafers; and The Boogie Woogie, the concoction the Food Network raved about. Except for the shakes Byrd makes, Goodies’ desserts are served in Chinese takeout containers — both a less expensive alternative to an ice cream cup and because, in keeping with his brand, they are a throwback to another era. Well before the containers were used for Chinese takeout, in the 1930s, ice cream was served in oyster pails, as they were called.
Goodies operates Thursday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. during the prime summer months and this year, Byrd plans to stay open until Wednesday or possibly later. He’s contemplating some “creative winter treats.”
Reflecting on his success, Byrd said he’s “amazed and astonished. This little 70-year-old truck, this Midwest staple, serving established treats, has become a pillar in the community. I’m always astonished the way people have responded and have believed in the brand and believed in me.”