McConnell’s serves freshly scooped ice cream as well as packaged tubs to go. Abigail Monti / Daily Nexus

Seventy-five years ago, husband and wife Gordon “Mac” and Ernesteen “Ernie” McConnell had a dream: making the finest ice cream in the world. In 1949, they launched the beloved McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams brand and opened their first location on Mission and State Street in December 1950.

The McConnell’s brand immediately stood apart. At the time, ice creams were packed with artificial flavors, colors, stabilizers, preservatives and sweeteners. In contrast, McConnell’s ice cream stuck to the basics, like locally sourced cream, pure cane sugar and simple ingredients. Their artisan homemade base contains 18+% milkfat, a standard higher than most ice creams in the industry. The result? Deliciously dense, smooth and flavorful ice cream.

Mac and Ernie McConnell ran the store until 1962 when Mac passed away. Shortly after, Ernie sold McConnell’s to Jim and Jeney McCoy. The McCoys built on the company legacy, expanding distribution to new markets in Southern California. In 1975, they purchased The Old Dairy, the largest of 10 family-run dairies that once operated in downtown Santa Barbara. It became (and still is) the McConnell’s work headquarters.

In 2012, McConnell’s was bought by Michael Palmer, a winemaker, and his wife Eva Ein, a chef, and continued operating at The Old Dairy. In 2013, it underwent major renovations to update the ice cream-making equipment. Yet, as the brand expanded, Palmer soon realized they needed more manufacturing power. He oversaw the construction of a new facility in Oxnard 10 times as large as The Old Dairy.

Under Palmer and Ein’s ownership, the flagship McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams store opened at 728 State Street, just down the street from Mac and Ernie’s original store. Now, six McConnell’s shops exist throughout California’s coast, and their products are sold in more than 2,000 grocery stores and markets. They ship pints nationwide and even have a “Pint of the Month Club.” 

Unlike most other ice cream brands, McConnell’s is also the manufacturer — meaning it makes the cream and is responsible for the ingredients that go into its products. “After 70-years, we’ve learned something: to make the finest ice creams, you must control the process, every step of the way,” the McConnell’s website says.

In celebration of the shop’s 75th anniversary, Palmer and Ein resurrected four classic flavors from the original shop’s menu: Dutchman’s Chocolate, Black Coffee Chip, Santa Barbara Strawberry and Sweet Cream. Customers can buy pints of each classic flavor in their iconic 1949 retro striped packaging. 

The store also celebrated its anniversary with a 49% discount at all shop locations on Tuesday, May 7 in commemoration of their origin date in 1949. Santa Barbara locals flocked to the store, forming a line down State Street.

Now, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams serves over 100 rotating flavors. Popular flavors include Sea Salt Cream & Cookies, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Eureka Lemon & Marionberries and Earl Grey Tea & Shortbread Cookies. Their menu has also expanded to include cookies, ice cream sandwiches, milkshakes, floats and sundaes.

Even as the McConnell’s brand has grown, changed owners, expanded locations and added new flavors, their ice cream has remained a timeless symbol of family, tradition, and — of course — unbeatable flavor. Three generations later, McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream remains the go-to dessert destination of Santa Barbara County. 

Although the special offer has passed, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of the school year than with a pint (or two)!

A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the May 16, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.