Cookeville Staple – Cream City
You can’t miss it.
How could you? It’s adorned with a 3-ton neon sign that illuminates the WestSide of Cookeville and has become a local iconic sight. Around this magical place, the smell of coffee and homemade ice cream fills the air; enchanting those nearby.
Of course, I’m describing the beloved Cream City.
Dating back to the 1890s, Cream City has been not only a landmark in what is now Cookeville’s WestSide, but also a sought-after destination for generations. The charming ice cream shop was born as a milk and dairy plant dubbed Consumer City. As it evolved, the original owners rebranded the business to be more suitably named, Cream City.
After a fire destroyed the original building, a new building was constructed in the same location as the historic business. The location where Cream City still sits today was solidified in 1950 when the neon sign was mounted, converting the spot into a beacon for those in need of community (and dessert).
The one-of-a-kind sign quickly transformed Cream City into one of the top tourist attractions between Nashville and Knoxville sitting squarely on the only route option then available for traversing the state.
So, when Tennessee Tech alumni Chris and Karen Savage had a unique opportunity to take ownership of Cream City in 2013, they knew the opportunity came with the weight of protecting a legacy. With a background in civil engineering, Chris wasted no time in streamlining the inventory and equipment management for the new family business. Karen utilized her marketing background to develop relationships with schools, Tennessee Tech, and the community; cross-promoting Cream City at events where their target audience would likely be present.
“Karen really tried to connect Cream City to the community early on when we took over,” said Chris. With a goal of promoting “ice cream for all ages,” Karen and Chris have evolved the clientele of Cream City to include not only kids, but a loyal customer base of senior citizens and Tech students as well.
While ice cream may be what gets people in the door, Cream City has become a popular spot to grab a cup of coffee as well. By way of fulfilling the goal of utilizing local suppliers, the “Cream City” coffee blend was created in partnership with Vertical Coffee Co. The delicious beverage can now be purchased by the bag at the sweet shop.
Truly a family business, the Savages had three default employees in their teenage children when they took over Cream City. Despite now all working in different career fields, Courtney, Chloe Grace, Caleb, and his wife Lexie still pick up shifts from time to time. You can even find the manager in training, their 20-month-old grandson Chief, at the shop on occasion.
Among other evolutions under the Savages, major changes have been made to the upkeep of the irreplaceable neon sign. “When we first bought the business, we paid the electric bill on the sign,” explained Karen. The high cost to keep the sign lit proved to be a daunting task for the couple so when the city approached them about stepping in and taking over the electric on top of maintenance, the Savages were thrilled. “Since so many people come to see the sign, the city wanted to make sure it would be lit up at all times.” Today, CityScape takes care of every aspect of the sign; a large part of their WestSide revitalization initiative in Cookeville.
During Covid, the Savages were forced to reimagine how they would serve customers in a new, socially distant world. “We always felt like the thought of a walk-up window would be so difficult to pull off,” said Chris. “But during quarantine, we were kind of forced to move forward and make it happen.” Despite their hesitancy at first, the walk-up window has become a much more efficient way to serve customers quickly, especially on bustling summer days.
From Tennessee Fudge to Stellar Coffee to Mexican Chocolate, Cream City boasts a broad flavor variety of handmade ice cream that keep patrons coming back for more. The Savages have built a close rapport with their Nashville supplier and ice cream maker extraordinaire who they visit every Friday to load down their van with the best offerings around.
To celebrate their 10th anniversary of owning the business, the Savages are bringing back their “throwback flavors” from 2013 including Dulce De Leche, Dark Chocolate Fudge, Candy Jar, Cotton Candy, and Daiquiri Ice. These delicious throwback flavors will only be available in 2023, so Cream City lovers should get them while they last.
The Savage legacy is ingrained in Cream City and the couple hopes to continue serving and growing with the community as the years pass. From father-daughter date night caps to students cramming for their next exam, to retirees craving something sweet, the Savages are grateful for everyone who celebrates the history of Cookeville with them at Cream City, one cone at a time.
– by Chelsea Dartez, photos by Abby Weeden