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Getting the Scoop with Superior Dairy

Aug 26, 2016 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Standing Timeless

September 2016
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Amber Smith

When you think of history, what comes to mind? Libraries and monuments, old sepia-toned photographs, things timeless and things immemorial, things like ice cream. That’s right, ice cream. But not just any ice cream. We’re talking about Superior Dairy ice cream, a Hanford staple made from an original recipe predating the Great Depression.

And yet, Superior Dairy is much more than its frozen nectar, because it’s also a snapshot of Hanford’s past, and a family’s living history. In fact, says Susan Wing, co-owner of Superior Dairy, “it’s the longest continuously owned-by-the-same-family-in-one-location soda fountain west of the Mississippi.”

“The original feeling is still here. The inside has changed very, very little since we opened. We’ve rearranged things,” she says, like getting rid of some old Venetian blinds, “but basically it hasn’t changed at all.” 

Little has changed since 1929, when her grandfather Judson Bowden started the company, almost as a side project. Once a full-serve dairy, Superior had it all – cows, bottled milk, cottage cheese and butter, and lots of excess cream.

At some point, says Wing, the question was asked, “What are we going to do with all this cream? Oh, we’ll make ice cream. So (Bowden) traveled to UC Davis and they formulated a recipe, which we still use today,” says Wing.

In 1960, Wing’s father took over operations and ran the business until 1994, when she and brother Tim Jones became co-owners. “And my son is currently managing, so he’s a fourth-generation soda jerk,” Wing says with a laugh.

Even the environment of Superior Dairy taps into the local history: the same old building with the same tin-pressed roof, located in historic downtown Hanford across from scenic Civic Park. Like any ice cream shop, Superior has the display case, the diner-style bar and stools, the cushy booths, which on a summer day are almost always full. At Superior, there’s no reservations, and even for a small town it’s not unusual that “there’s people standing outside, standing in the aisles,” says Wing. “It’s crazy.”

Crazy for ice cream that really hasn’t much changed in the last 80 years. Superior doesn’t rely on gimmicks or 31 flavors or new specials. They keep it simple. “We have nine standard flavors: one special, three sherbets and a strawberry freeze,” says Wing. They do offer a special, but “the whole summer, we’re running peach.”  

There is a degree of predictability and reliability at Superior, and Wing says, “Nothing ever changes here. We don’t mess around with it.” The old adage applies: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Superior certainly doesn’t mess around when it comes to its services, heaping scoops and especially the notorious SOS, which stands for Superior Oversized Sundae. 

“It’s something my dad made up years ago,” says Wing. Served in a goblet and more than a foot high, the SOS is a feat for one, though Wing has seen people try it. “Usually though they order with four spoons.” 

The original is “sherbet, strawberry freeze, hot fudge, strawberry and marshmallow toppings. The base is vanilla, and then you put the toppings, and then the sherbets, then another scoop of vanilla on top,” explains Wing. Then more toppings, a banana cut into thirds, a ton of whipped cream, and a cherry to top it all off. All for just 16 bucks. 

Other than the SOS, the Superior Special (an adaptation of the banana split) is also popular, but Superior Dairy isn’t just about ice cream.

“There is this rumor that won’t die that we have burgers and fries,” Wing says with a laugh, “but we never had that.” They do, however, have simple sandwiches that were put on the menu in 1964. Ham and cheese, tri-tip, tuna on a roll, even peanut butter and jelly, with each sandwich ranging from about $5 to $9.

Some things just aren’t meant to change. Intentionally or not, that’s been something of a mantra for Superior Dairy, and it’s worked. Because at Superior Dairy, every sandwich and scoop of ice cream comes with a large side of nostalgia – a general feeling for the past, and maybe what also will be, because so long as you don’t let it sit too long in the summer heat, Superior Dairy ice cream might just be one of those things that lasts forever.

325 N. Douty St., Hanford

(559) 582-0481 • Monday–Sunday, 11am–9:30pm

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