Ice cream fans have it too easy — if you’re patient enough, a truck will drive right down your street and bring some to you. No, the real white lion of summer confections is frozen custard, the cold (but not too cold), rich (but not too rich) dessert, seemingly custom-made for mid-Michigan summer nights.
Kathy and Daryl Brenner are the owners/operators of Kathy’s Pier Delight in Bath Township. Their fond memories of the summer treat factored heavily in their decision to open the Lansing area’s only independent frozen soft-serve custard counter, which also doubles as a paddleboat rental facility.
“(Daryl) and I used to frequent a frozen custard place in Utica while we were dating and we always loved it,” she said. “Anyone can have ice cream — we wanted something different.” From the store’s quirky M&Ms memorabilia theme to the mini-museum of Bath Township history, the built-in family fun night at Kathy’s is nothing if not “different.”
It was a last-minute dinner on the road that led to the Brenners opening Kathy’s Pier Delight. They live in Bancroft, about 35 miles northeast of Lansing, and were in Bath in 1995 for their daughter’s softball game. They stopped at Taco Zoo, perched on Park Lake just north of East Lansing. They loved the location, and when the stars aligned six years later, they bought the property. After years of red tape, the Brenners took over Taco Zoo in 2005, renamed it, and Kathy Brenner has been behind the counter from May to September ever since.
Frozen custard is similar to soft-serve ice cream with a few notable but subtle differences. The custard isn’t as sweet as ice cream can be, and the texture is much creamier because of the heavy use of egg yolks in the recipe. Custard isn’t quite as cold as ice cream either, making it much easier for anyone with sensitive teeth.
Kathy’s custard comes in the standard chocolate, vanilla and twist, but from there the variations are vast. A small twist in a waffle cone costs $2.69. You can get fancy and go for a dark chocolate dip and sprinkles for an extra 85 cents. You can also get a chocolate malt ($3.09), made on a retro, mint green malt machine. There are also custard “treasures” (think Dairy Queen Blizzard), shakes, malts, banana splits, sundaes, and slushies.
A fish food machine sits in the corner of the shop, tempting kids to get a quarter’s worth to scatter in the lake. Or if you’re not content to stay on the shore, you can rent a paddleboat for $5 an hour. Afterward, you can refuel with a walking taco (snack-sized bag of Fritos into which is scooped chili, salsa, cheese, and sour cream) or Flintmade Koegel hot dogs.
The shop’s walls are lined with framed mementos from Park Lake’s glory days: Postcards from people who lived on the lake in the early 1900s, photos of a barn that hosted dances and burned down in the 1930s and other relics that customers have donated to the store.
Brenner gladly regales customers with stories about how her shop has become filled with the peculiar tchotchkes. After she put up three pieces of M&Ms memorabilia she’d had at home, things started to snowball — customers started bringing in anything related to M&Ms to add to the collection. Her story about a young patron saving their allowance to gift her with an M&Ms telephone is enough to melt anyone’s custard-filled heart.