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Scooping up tasty treats for 75 years

MacKay's Cochrane Ice Cream has been passed down through the generations, creating summertime smiles for all who frequent the small town Alberta shop.

It’s a little before 11 on a Thursday morning, and already people are gathering outside a local business on the historic main street of Cochrane to enjoy a classic summer treat.

“I can’t come to Calgary without visiting MacKay’s,” said Linda VanSickle, visiting from Ontario and enjoying ice cream with her two granddaughters. VanSickle enjoys travelling to Cochrane to sample a treat from the family run MacKay’s Cochrane Ice Cream.

And she’s not the only one. Inside the store, which has been serving ice cream for 75 years, is a world map that is currently without pins. But the state of the map with its rips and holes, shows how word-of-mouth and some creative flavours have drawn both locals and tourists in for a taste.

“We’re seeing families who are second, third, fourth generation coming in,” said Meghan Tayfel, the current owner of MacKay’s with her husband, Mark. The couple took over the shop from Meghan’s aunts in 2011, making them the third generation to run the business.

The ice cream recipes for MacKay’s first materialized in 1948 when Meghan’s grandparents - James and Christina MacKay - began making the frozen treat to entice tourists inside their general store. They made the ice cream at the back of the shop, using James’ mother and grandmother’s recipes.

“He started with just the basics and what was available then,” said Meghan, explaining the first flavours available included vanilla, chocolate, maple walnut and strawberry.

While the classics are still favourites today--especially the maple walnut with tourists looking for a taste of Canadiana--the most popular scoop is currently pistachio almond while the take-home favourite is durian (known as the king of fruit, with a strong odour).

 “There’s been more international customers, so the flavours are shifting a little bit,” said Mark.

Business boomed during James MacKay’s tenure, with 4,500 ice creams scooped on one memorable Sunday in 1976. A year later the MacKay’s stopped making ice cream in the store and opened a manufacturing plant in Cochrane’s industrial area where it remains today and continues to be made in a small batch machine, creating only four tubs of ice cream at a time.

“We’re very fussy with the quality. People assume we are a large production facility, but every batch is ultra controlled,” said Meghan.

Rhona and Robyn MacKay ran the shop from 1983 to 2011, after their dad died.  Meghan credits her aunts for introducing more exotic new flavours like durian, avocado and green tea. It was also during their time that cookie dough, cotton candy and mochaccino were added to the family recipe book.

The present owners continue to stretch their creative muscles to include new flavours such as the Keso--a cheddar cheese-based ice cream popular in the Philippines--and Kulfi, a saffron and cardamom-based ice cream from India.

Meghan started in the family business at a young age, working in the plant before she was old enough to come into the shop and scoop the treat for customers. Taking different career paths at first, she and Mark were later approached by her aunts to consider taking over the ice cream shop. 

“It would have been sad to have it leave the family,” said Meghan, adding the couple worked with the aunts for a while to see if it was something they wanted to do. From there, Mark took a university course in Ontario to learn more about ice cream making. "It takes both art and science," he said.

Today, customers can choose from 40 to 50 flavours when visiting the store - still at its original location in Cochrane. This summer, the MacKays featured a new flavour in the YYC Scoop Fest at Heritage Park--Firebox Ice Cream--a mix of wild cherry ice cream, chipotle chili powder and hot sauce.

And earlier this summer, MacKay's recognized its 75 anniversary with 2,849 scoops served. 


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