Faces + Places

Kline’s Dairy Bar: It’s Not All About Flavors, It’s About Family

Kline's sign

Kline’s Wolfe Street location in Downtown Harrisonburg, Va

The first time I went to Kline’s Dairy Bar was during the fall semester of my freshman year at JMU. The rumor was that Kline’s made the best ice cream in Harrisonburg and, judging from the number of people I’d heard of  that went to Kline’s on a regular basis or made it a stop on their visits back to Harrisonburg, I knew I had to try it.

I am definitely the adventurous type, and when it comes to food, I will try anything. At the same time, I can’t resist chocolate, so this is usually the flavor I opt for when getting ice cream, however safe that may seem.

However, my first visit to Kline’s did not involve a one-dip chocolate cone. Instead, when placing my order, my mouth spoke before my mind could disagree and there I stood staring at a cone of creamy orange Pumpkin ice cream. That was all I needed to be convinced that Kline’s is the Premium Ice Cream.

Kline’s owner Mike Arehart was born in Harrisonburg, attended the city’s public schools, and went to Blue Ridge Community College. With the help of his father, Mike purchased Kline’s Dairy Bar in 1979 when he was just 19 years old. Sam Fletcher, who sold the business to Mike, had purchased it only five years earlier from the one and only Bess Kline. Although Mike had bought the business, Bess continued to help Mike and run the window. Tradition was important to Bess and the Kline’s legacy still fuels the business today.

Kline’s is well known for its weekly special flavors such as Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cake Batter, and Mike’s personal favorite, Blueberry Cheesecake Swirl. But don’t let all these innovative varieties fool you – Kline’s ice cream still oozes with tradition.

Kline's ice cream

Cake Batter Ice Cream

            “I remember the first time I told Bess about a new flavor we were going to serve,” Mike says with a smile on his face. “I told Bess it was going to be vanilla with cookies in it. She told me we were going to look silly serving ice cream with that stuff in it. Later that day, I came back into the shop to find her dipping those same cookies in her coffee. I leaned over her shoulder and told her she might look silly dipping those cookies like that,” Mike laughed as he reminisced.

If there is one thing I began to learn about Bess through Mike’s stories, it was that she commanded respect, was never afraid to state her opinion, and was loved all the more for it.

Now Cookies N’ Cream is a Kline’s favorite along with their top seller, Black Raspberry. This decadent purple ice cream has a rich and sweet, yet tangy, taste.

Mike is always coming up with new flavors.  The ice cream is made fresh weekly, and each Kline’s location features the original vanilla and chocolate flavors, with a special flavor of the week that starts every Thursday.

The actual ice cream-making at Kline’s is taken very seriously. Mike explained to me that, aside from buying top quality mix and ensuring the freshest ingredients, Kline’s unique flavor and texture comes from the minuscule amount of air created in the custard from the process of a continuous freeze. The continuous freeze machine keeps the mix frozen from the time it enters the machine until the time it comes out. This makes the freshest ice cream and creates a luscious texture because all of the ice crystals are small and compact.

The machines behind the scenes.

While I visited Kline’s, I was fortunate to meet custard connoisseur Missy Summers, the manager of the Wolfe Street location. “I live, breathe, and eat ice cream,” she told me. Missy was born and raised in Harrisonburg and started working at Kline’s when she was in high school. She’s now been working at Kline’s for almost 20 years.

She is picky about her ice cream, and of all people, has the right to be – her grandfather was best friends with John Kline and her mom, aunt, and cousin have all worked at Kline’s.  In fact, she told me the story of how Bess Kline was the one who named her.

To say that Missy grew up surrounded by ice cream is an understatement.  “I remember playing cards with Bess and my grandmother,” Missy told me, “she was family. We’re a big family, close to 30 employees, extended to everyone who has ever worked here.” I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be a part of a family bonded by ice cream.

Mike Arehart boasted to me that Kline’s is a tradition. “I see people all the time that I haven’t seen for years because people gravitate back to Kline’s,” he said. “If you grew up here or went to JMU, it has been a fabric of the Harrisonburg community for so long that it is one of the first places people gather.”

Mike Arehart and Missy Summers outside Kline’s on Wolfe St.

So next time you’re in the mood for ice cream, stop at Kline’s and dip into a new flavor like upcoming new releases Red Velvet and Honey Badger.

This week’s flavors of the week are Peach at the Wolfe Street location and Mint Cookies and Cream at the South Main Street location.

Kari Owens is the HDR Promotions Intern for Summer and Fall 2012. She is a rising senior Media Arts & Design major and Creative Writing minor at James Madison University.

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