From our bar stools to our cocktail ingredients, everything that we source here
at Cardinal Spirits has a story. Eventually, we'll tell you all of them.
In towns across America, there's that one ice cream shop where everyone lines up on summer nights, hoping that the two dozen people in front of them have their order and money ready (they never do). In Bloomington, that place is The Chocolate Moose.
The tiny, old-school stand has a giant menu of homemade ice cream, soft serve and dairy-free flavors, served simply in cones or teased into shakes, floats, freezes, sundaes and parfaits. It's the kind of place where you might spend the entire time in line making a decision, and still not know your order when you get to the window.
The Moose's ice cream can be found at stores and restaurants in town, too. In fact, The Moose makes two varieties of spiked ice cream, just for Cardinal: Moscow Mule with our vodka, and one with our Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur. We sell them both by the scoop and by the half-pint at the distillery.
We caught up with Justin Loveless, the owner of the Chocolate Moose, to get the scoop on this Bloomington icon:
CARDINAL: We are a long way from moose country. How did this Moose come to be?
JUSTIN: The original owners, the May family, built a restaurant in the ‘50s. Their son was not interested in the food industry, but loved the idea of homemade ice cream. When the Mays retired, they handed the restaurant to their son who opened it as an ice cream shop called The Penguin. Sometime in the ‘80s the May brothers sold the shop, only to buy it back a couple of years later. At that point they lost the rights to the name, and rather than spend extra money buying it back, they changed the name to The Chocolate Moose.
Say it's your first time at the Chocolate Moose, and you are nervously looking over the colossal menu. What do you order?
Keep it simple so you don't get embarrassed in front of the 30 people standing in line around you. Just order a simple cup of the homemade ice cream.
Which ice cream flavor is most popular?
The top selling item is the legendary Grasshopper — homemade mint Oreo. I suggest throwing some hot fudge on it.
What do you suggest when it comes to a Blizz (ice cream blended with your choice stir-ins like brownies, cookie dough and Reese's cups)?
I'm a chocolate/peanut butter guy, so I go with the homemade Moose Dream (homemade chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups) with Heath bar stirred in.
Tell us about The Moose's dairy-free options.
Our homemade vegan ice cream is very popular. It is a coconut milk–based ice cream instead of dairy–based. The majority of the sweetener is agave nectar. We currently have Vegan Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry and Grasshopper. Special batches, such as Cookie Dough and Brown County Coffee, are made fairly often as well.
The Moose is now on menus all around town, serves Uel Zing coffee and Brown County coffee ice cream, and has been making special appearances in places like Upland and now Cardinal Spirits. What's the idea behind all these collaborations?
It’s a win-win situation. Collaborating offers co-promotion and allows two brand communities to come together. Ice cream made with a vodka base is fairly simple. I had made that type of ice cream previously for other restaurants, so dialed in on the Moscow Mule for Cardinal Spirits. Then we moved to Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur. Our winter project will be to pair with local breweries. Beer ice cream is a different animal.
What is in store for the Moose this fall?
We recently signed with Indiana University to be at sporting events, which is very exciting. We will have a stand that offers five or six different flavors available in half pints. The half pint is our newest twist.
On Fridays, a bunch of food trucks gather in your parking lot to serve lunch and dinner. How did Food Truck Friday get going?
It started as a fundraiser for the Project School at Bryan Park. Then we thought having food trucks would be a great way to utilize our parking lot. It’s fairly small overhead for us, and a lot of fun. Now we are theming each Friday, giving some a music festival feel, while others are focused on other big crowd pleasers.
The line outside the moose is almost always theme park worthy. Will ‘the box’ ever expand or change to meet the demand of anxious ice cream connoisseurs?
The theme is here to stay. Even with the possibility of future expansion, we would keep the feel of the place and all of the new additions would be made as replicas to what we currently have in place. The Moose has a footprint here in Bloomington.
How does a tiny ice cream stand stay alive year-round?
Wholesale and our ice-delivery program is what keeps us going in the winter. What started as a summertime boutique blew up — a lot of people want our ice cream, so we now distribute to a lot of local grocery stores around town, including the IGA’s in Spencer, Unionville, and Brown County. As for the ice, we deliver to bars after hours, and cater to big events like weddings and happenings on campus. Just a couple months ago we put in an ice kiosk. It’s pretty sweet.
Photos by Jonna Yost and Cardinal Spirits.