Dre's: Southern-style ice cream for the world, from a hole in the wall in West Philly

Andre Andrews at his West Philadelphia ice cream and water ice stand, Dre’s.

Even with the yellow awning, the water ice and ice cream window in a basement store beneath a church just off 62nd Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia could be easy to miss.

Modesty helps define the shopkeeper. Andre Andrews — yes, the name trips even him up, so just call him “Dre” — started Dre’s Homemade Water Ice & Ice Cream five summers ago, walking through his neighborhood with a dream and a pushcart. After winning over the owners of Brown’s ShopRite to stock his Southern-style ice cream, he landed a deal for Walmart stores in the South. It’s also available at various local retailers and at Pizzeria Nonna in Mount Airy.

Andrews, 36, may not be the first guy to make pints of sweet potato pie and peach cobbler ice cream, but he’s the one bent on taking it national.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Andre Andrews dipping at his West Philadelphia ice cream and water ice stand, Dre’s.
Tell me how ice cream was a part of your childhood.

My grandfather Richard used to make ice cream every weekend for family. My grandparents had nine children and 29 grandchildren. They all lived within the neighborhood, less than a mile away from their house at 5726 Cherry St., which is not too far from here. Every morning, my grandfather would cook breakfast for his children. His grandchildren would all come over on Sunday morning. Once breakfast was over, he would start to prepare for dinner and dessert. There would be cakes, pies, as well as homemade ice cream. I am the youngest grandson and the youngest of four. He would save me some over all the other grandkids. So I just fell in love with ice cream.

How did you go pro?

I graduated from Bloomsburg University, and I went into real estate. I purchased several homes. On my way back coming from South Africa with my church in 2013, I was on a plane looking at a list of businesses that I wanted to start. Out of the list, I thought: Which business can I start right now? I wanted to own a hair salon, a barbershop, a nail salon. That’s fine; I still want to do that. But I wanted to start something right away. The one on my list that I could start right away with the least amount of capital was the water ice business.

I purchased a batch machine and a pushcart with my own money. I sold one of my properties and used that financing plus the money I already had saved up to purchase a pushcart and a batch machine. I put it in the basement of my parents’ house when they were away on vacation. I kept the pushcart in the backyard, and then I put the batch machine in my basement. I started in my basement — not my garage, like the famous billionaires did. I started making water ice first.

I never worked for a water ice or ice cream shop, so it was basically starting from scratch. I always put myself in the mind of what would my grandfather do. He always made stuff from scratch. I started with four flavors — lemon, mango, strawberry, and cherry.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Best-selling flavors at Dre’s ice cream stand.

I just pushed the cart throughout my neighborhood every day — June 1 all the way to Oct. 1. I would get up at 9 o’clock in the morning, get my pretzel, and I would push my cart from 11 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night, and I would come back home and make flavors for the next day.

That winter, I started playing around with ice cream, and I started giving it to those individuals that supported me my first summer. I started giving it out, but they wanted to purchase it, so I would sell it to them for $4. There was a woman who wanted to pay $5 for it, so I was like, ‘OK, I’m up to something.’

For the next summer, I said, ‘Where can I take my pushcart?’ I wasn’t afraid of the hard work. You have to deal with the humidity, you have to deal with the rain. And this generation doesn’t play outside at 8 o’clock in the morning, like my generation. People don’t come outside until 6, 7 o’clock at night when the sun went down, when their parents came home — then that’s when I was making my money. I said, ‘Where can I go and be somewhere where the people are at every single day?’ That’s when I approached Jeff Brown at the ShopRite [market] and asked him, ‘Can I put my pushcart inside the supermarket?’

From there, I opened up a kiosk. It’s a little something different. I basically have a little niche in the market — ice cream at a price slightly less than my competitors and I’m providing a product that no one else has. From there, we expanded into all the Brown’s ShopRites. Now, we just launched those flavors — banana pudding, sweet potato pie, strawberry shortcake, peach cobbler, and butter praline — in 400 Walmart stores in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Distribution and manufacturing. Right now, we make some of it [in the store]. We’ve actually outgrown our co-packer. We have so many supermarkets calling us that want to carry our product. And we’re looking to do another 200 or 210 Walmarts by the fourth quarter, if not the first quarter of 2019.

How did you finance this?

Everything myself. I’ve been saving money since the summer of eighth grade. My father owned a laundromat, and my brothers sold clothes out of the trunk of his car. The summer I graduated from eighth grade, I purchased stocks over the counter. I got a credit card in ninth grade with [a] $400 [limit] on it. I do not know how I did that. I would purchase candy. I sold out that first box of Skittles that first day. So the next day I went to get Skittles and Starburst. I started selling candy at school and when it got warmer I started selling candy, chocolate, water, and juice out of my backpack. I’d keep some in my locker, some in my backpack. When I graduated 12th grade, I purchased my first home. Then I went to Penn State [in Abington] and then to Bloomsburg University, and I started selling Tastykakes, hair, cars, women’s dresses, pocketbooks, wallets. All that money that I saved from birthdays, graduations — that’s how I had money to put into the water ice business. Plus I sold the house, and all that money I just reinvested into my company.

Have a goal?

Have the water ice and ice cream worldwide, just like any other brand would do, and build this company up to be a family-owned business. I’m into creating a generation of wealth for my family, and if I have to sell to build another company, or bring the other products underneath this company, then I’m willing to do so.