If it's summertime, it's time to hit Putz's Creamy Whip, the sweet spot of the West Side
Since 1938, it's where neighbors gather
Karen Bells | WCPO contributor
10:00 AM, Jun 25, 2016
8:31 AM, Mar 27, 2017
CINCINNATI -- Progress is all well and good. Then again, when your business has already found its sweet spot, sometimes it’s better not to mess with the winning recipe.
For Putz’s Creamy Whip, which has long since established itself as a West Side institution, that means mostly sticking with the things that have been pleasing loyal customers for decades -- creamy soft-serve ice cream, hot fudge and strawberry shortcake sundaes, vanilla-chocolate twist, banana splits, foot-long cheese coneys, and chili and barbecue from the same family recipes used for longer than Donna Borgman can remember.
“We’ve tried to keep things as much the same as we can,” said Borgman, who has been working in the family business since she was 13 and has owned it with her husband, Jack, for 24 years.
Putz’s Creamy Whip -- which opens for the season Monday -- was established in 1938 by her great-grandparents Constantine and Anna Putz and grandparents Gertie and Ray Ehrhardt, whom customers young and old typically called Grandma and Grandpa.
Consistency -- not just in the quality and taste of the ice cream and food but also in the family-friendly, neighborhood atmosphere -- continues to draw legions of fans who wouldn’t get their soft serve anywhere else. Katy Owen, for example, drives past several other ice cream shops and creamy whips to get to Putz’s for her fix of cheese coneys and chocolate frappes.
“I wouldn’t dream of ordering the chocolate frappe anywhere else, because they wouldn’t make it right,” said Owen, who grew up near Putz’s West Fork Road location at the edge of Northside and Westwood and started making regular outings to Putz’s with family before she was old enough to walk.
That tradition continues now that Owen is a mother. Her son, Kash Kelly, has already tried the soft serve about a half-dozen times, she said, starting with little licks of the classic vanilla and recently working up to a sample of the popular blueberry. She’s happy to report that Kash, like several generations of his ancestors, is already a Putz’s devotee.
It’s not just the ice cream and food that have been drawing her back for her entire life, though. Eating at Putz’s offers a microcosm of all that she loves -- she might run into old friends she hasn’t seen since childhood, there are always groups of local ball teams and often firefighters on their lunch break, and the employees at Putz’s treat everyone like a friend.
Perhaps that’s because they’re having so much fun themselves. Mindi Leach has been working at the creamy whip for 16 years, since she was a 15-year-old high school kid. She’s a manager now, and if she has her way, she can spend her career at Putz’s.
“It was my first job, and hopefully it’ll be my last job,” Leach said. “I’ve seen so many families and generations come through here. What it’s all about is making people happy.”
That emphasis on building a sense of community has always been as much a part of the Putz’s allure as the beloved soft serve -- some of which is still made in the Electro-Freeze custard machine, “Betsy,” that the family has been using since 1954, known for a dense, non-airy blend.
“People come up to us all the time and say, ‘You’re probably tired of hearing stories from families who have been coming here for years …’ and we’re like, ‘Are you kidding me?! Never!’ ” she said. “It’s amazing to know my great-grandparents and grandparents started something that has touched so many lives.”
Roger Giblin has fond memories of collecting soda bottles for pennies, cutting grass for extra cash after school, and then hiking to Putz’s on Saturday mornings to meet friends and fellow Boy Scouts.
“Putz’s reminds me of my youth, my carefree days,” he said.
Borgman is a fourth-generation family member at Putz’s, and there are six generations working there, including her son and three granddaughters. If all goes well, she said, the business will continue to be family-run long past her time there.
Like the owners and employees, Putz’s regulars want to pass the tradition along to their families, too. Becki Renaud of Monfort Heights has been eating and hanging out at Putz’s for as long as she can remember, and now she brings her granddaughter Lila. When she was a teen in the 1970s, she would ride her horse to the creamy whip, where there would often be a dozen or more horses enjoying a little taste of ice cream, too.
“This place is the West Side. It is the neighborhood,” Renaud said. “There are no bad memories here, just a lifetime of good memories.”
While she’s tried everything on the menu countless times, her husband and grown son, like many Putz’s regulars, never vary from their favorite -- a banana shake for her son and a large twist cone for her husband -- hundreds and hundreds of times.
As much a part of the West Side community as Putz’s is, its appeal isn’t limited to that part of town. Borgman said plenty of regulars drive a half-hour or more from around the Tri-State for their fix, and whenever staff members go anywhere with a Putz’s T-shirt on, they get stopped for a story.
One older customer drove every year from Indiana to be the first customer in line on the opening day of the creamy whip’s six-month season.
Owen, in fact, even took a Putz’s menu with her to Europe about five years ago and in front of Buckingham Palace snapped a selfie, which hung in the creamy whip’s window all season.
That kind of devotion runs both ways.
“When we reopen each season, we’re so excited,” said Borgman. “We just can’t wait to see our customers’ faces.”