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The Surprising Origin of Dippin’ Dots

This story of (sugary sweet) American ingenuity starts, like so many do, in a family garage. Just kidding, it actually starts at a Kentucky biotech company in the late ’80s. We’ll get to the garage later. Anyway, the year was 1987, and a newly graduated microbiologist named Curt Jones was working at a Kentucky biotech company. His task: create a more efficient feed for farm animals. Curt had a specialization in cryogenics and a passion for making ice cream. And, no, no, he wasn’t planning to feed ice cream to livestock.

Basically, Curt’s job was to integrate probiotics into cow feed to help the animals’ digestion. To do this, he had to isolate the probiotic culture found in yogurt, freeze dry it to powder and then integrate the substance into the animal feed. It took many tries, but Curt soon realized that he could form pellets by dipping the yogurt cultures into liquid nitrogen, which made it way easier to insert them. After discovering this icy solution, Curt decided to try a similar tactic with his beloved ice cream. He loved eating it, but hated the icy taste it sometimes had. The result? Ice cream deep frozen into tiny beads that satisfyingly melted in the mouth. His passions merged, and Curt set off for the ice cream business. In 1988, he started manufacturing Dippin’ Dots in his parents’ Illinois garage, giving the world what he and his sister would dub "The Ice Cream of the Future." That same year, he and his wife started an ice cream shop in Lexington, Kentucky. The brick-and-mortar experiment was short lived, but the couple found success at state fairs and theme parks, beginning with Tennessee’s Opryland USA.

Dippin’ Dots would go on to cross the country, but in recent years, the smell of success hasn’t been so sweet. In 2007, Dippin’ Dots sued a competitor called Frosty Bites Distribution, which produced a cryogenic treat called Mini Melts. Dippin’ Dots said the competitor had committed a patent infringement, while Frosty Bites argued Curt and co. had sold their Dots for over a year before applying for a patent. In the end, the jury went with Frosty Bites. Yikes. Four years later, the ice cream that could filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The good news? According to DippinDots.com, the company has seen record growth and expanded to 12 countries outside the United States since it was purchased by Fischer Enterprises in 2012. So enjoy the cryogenically produced ice cream, but watch out for brain freeze . . .

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