HattieGirl Ice Cream Sells History by the Spoonful 

Photo courtesy of HattieGirl Ice Cream


James Render, a Detroit native, wanted to bake and eat cookies when he was a child. In the third grade, he brought home a cookbook from the library and was fascinated at the idea of making all sorts of treats in the kitchen with his mother. His mom gifted him with an ice cream machine for Christmas; its use along with recipes passed down to his mother, would be the small start of his journey that would carry what began as a family recipe to a growing ice cream product available in more than 30 stores and restaurants.

Render’s mother, Hattie Foster-Thomas, would teach him how to make ice cream, develop different flavors and school him on how it was made when she was a young girl. Years later, Render would become the founder and CEO of HattieGirl Ice Cream. He named the business named after his mother who was given the name HattieGirl by her grandmother, Lula Foster, a former slave from rural Alabama. Lula raised Hattie after the loss of Hattie’s mother.

While at her grandmother’s side, Hattie learned to churn fresh ice cream and to sell it to the farm hands as they returned from the fields near their home in Midway, Ala. She passed those dessert recipes from her grandmother to her son.

“People from the south, so many things happened back in those times, people don’t really talk much about it,” Render said. “But my mother did that for me. She blessed me with the teachings of my great grandmother”.

Render had largely moved on from the family recipe and desserts. He went away to New York for college but returned to Detroit for a job as a teacher in Detroit Public Schools.

He returned to making his great-grandmother Lula’s inspired ice cream as a means to raise funds for an award-winning boys’ choir. The ice cream grew in popularity and he formally founded HattieGirl Ice Cream in 2006.

His entrepreneurial ride was a slow journey. While working as a teacher, he saved up enough money over the years to purchase a building in 2012. “The building was a former church,” said Render. “We had to go in there and pull out the pulpit. I felt like I was doing something against God. I was hesitant because I didn’t want to take down what God had built up but I eventually got the motivation to pursue this route.”

HattieGirl Ice Cream business really began to take off in 2018 as the products began to be produced inside the Wyoming St. location and retailers began to welcome the desserts.

He was inspired by a friend to talk to management at Meijer. After a demonstration taste-test, the popular retailer was sold on what he described to them as natural flavors. “In the south, my great-grandmother, that’s all they knew were all things natural.”

It was Render’s great grandmother’s roots that formed the flavors he created with real ingredients such as Sweet Potato Pie and Sweet Potato Pie Ice Cream with Pecans, not artificial flavors. HattieGirl ice cream also includes real pecans, real pistachio, and pureed strawberries, pure vanilla extract and freshly baked pound cake.

Render’s products are all made in Detroit and stands in a unique space as the only minority Black enterprise in the state of Michigan which manufactures ice cream.

As his products continue to sell across stores and restaurants in metro Detroit, he hopes to expands his business while making future investments in the city he calls home. “I want to stay in Detroit and keep this going.”

Render’s ice cream business in what partially started as a fundraising effort and childhood ice-cream making with his mother, is one James hopes to leave as a legacy.

“The hand of the Lord has guided me through this whole process,” Render said. “I want to keep this as a solid Black company. I want it to be national and international. I want to keep my mother and great-grandmother’s name out there and alive.”


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