The Scoop: The Evolution of Goodberry’s, Raleigh’s Beloved Frozen Custard Shop

This frozen dessert spot with 9 locations originated right here 30 years ago — and has remained a local favorite since.
by Hannah Kaufman / photography by Bob Karp

On a steamy September afternoon, Emily Speake is singing behind the counter at the Goodberry’s on Davis Drive in Cary, scooping out thick, sweet frozen custard for her regulars. “There’s Blaire, who comes in every day for a single cone of whatever the flavor of the day is — we tend to give him a little more custard than we would anybody else,” Speake says, “and Thomas, who always comes in to get chocolate with peanut butter fudge for his wife.”

Talk about heaven in a cone.

Goodberry’s has such a ubiquitous presence in the Triangle — nine locations in all — that it may come as a surprise that this frozen dessert company was born and bred in Raleigh. The company was created in the late 1980s by Harry Brathwaite, a businessman who worked for Brigham’s Ice Cream in the Boston area. He was ready to start his own company, one that emphasized using all-natural ingredients, a contrast to what he was seeing in the marketplace. And the Raleigh area, with its growing population, warm climate, and robust dairy industry, seemed like a great place to build it.

Brathwaite came up with a custard recipe, then worked with the dairy extension program at North Carolina State University to find a local processor. Its ingredients include milk, cream, cane sugar, eggs, and honey — no high-fructose corn syrup, no chemical fillers. It’s something akin to what you’d find a century ago. “I can’t overemphasize how rare it is to be making a dessert without stabilizing products, gums, or other chemical ingredients,” says Henry Brathwaite, Harry’s son. “It’s really just not done.” And Harry came up with a name, Goodberry’s, to encapsulate the brand’s mission: to build a delicious, high-quality treat with good ingredients.
In September of 1988, Harry opened the first Goodberry’s storefront at the corner of Spring Forest Road and Atlantic Avenue. A second location quickly followed on Kildaire Farm Road in Cary, and within 10 years, they opened six more locations.

At each location, the experience is much the same: customers order from a sliding walk-up window, then eat their custard around red metal tables shaded by umbrellas. “The goal was to create a space that people could come to, not be rushed, and enjoy the good weather we have in North Carolina,” says Henry.

A single Goodberry’s order offers a multitude of choices: custard, a shake, cake, pie, a specialty sundae, or the popular Carolina Concrete, which has the toppings mixed in. Goodberry’s offers a big range of both classic and unconventional toppings, from fresh fruits and roasted nuts to crushed cookies and candies. There are three everyday custard flavors — vanilla, chocolate, and no-sugar vanilla — plus a specialty flavor that changes daily (among the rotation: peach, key lime, mint chocolate chip, and coconut). True fans know to check the online calendar to see what’s in store.

“The small size is just perfect,” says customer Bryna Freeman. “Even the tiny little size is more than enough to make you feel like you had an amazing treat.

Just before the pandemic, Goodberry’s completed construction of a new facility in Wake Forest that brings all of their back-end production under one roof. “This was a capital-intensive project that took years to complete,” says Henry. Now, it’s where they receive the milk (all from North Carolina dairy farms), pasteurize and process it, create the custard base, and house all the other ingredients and materials that get distributed to their retail outlets. “We even designed proprietary equipment so that we can optimize the way that our product is frozen and served,” says Henry.

At each location, staffers mix the ingredients on-site, adding flavorings like vanilla or pureed strawberries to the base. Each batch of custard has to be made fresh every hour. A training facility for Goodberry’s locations is in development, a room that’ll be the exact layout of an actual store. “Because the custard is made on-site, it’s really important that everyone knows what to do,” says Henry. “You can have the best ingredients and the best recipe, but if you don’t freeze it correctly, it won’t be the best frozen custard.”

Their process is unique: they make their own recipe from scratch, using the most basic ingredients, like milk and cream. (Most frozen dessert outlets use an off-the-shelf mix from a wholesale food distributor.) And their new facility lets them own the product from start to finish, a huge undertaking that positions them to scale up in the future. “One of my favorite memories is tasting our first test production batch, which we made here about two weeks before the pandemic upended everything,” says Henry.

Since its founding, generations of locals and fans of old-school custard shops have flocked to Goodberry’s. Parents who used to bring their kids to Goodberry’s now bring their grandkids. “We’re fortunate to have those connections,” says Henry.

Similarly, he’s carrying on a family tradition: Henry started helping his father out at Goodberry’s when he was 12, and worked with the company in the summers from high school through college. After a little over a year working in finance in Boston, he came back to Goodberry’s in 2001, where he’s worked in various roles since. “Being in business as long as we have gives you perspective,” says Henry. “It really makes you appreciate the community you’re serving, as well as the people that work with us to help deliver a great product.”

Last year, Henry assumed the title of president, running the 200-person company. “I’ve got two young children, and having a parent who works with frozen custard is just about every kid’s dream,” he laughs.

For Henry, the local focus and community that Goodberry’s has built here are as much part of the brand as the original recipe. “When our customers come to our stores, we have the opportunity to be part of a really pleasant experience,” he says. “They’re happy to be there, and we’re happy to serve them.”

That attitude comes through with the employees as well. “We like to create a special bond with our customers and make sure that we’re putting our best back into the world for them,” says Sophia Melin, a mixer at the location on Davis Drive in Cary.

Over time, Goodberry’s has come to mean something different to each customer and staffer. For Emily, it’s a dance party with her coworkers in the staff room; for Blaire, it’s testing each new flavor of the day; for Thomas, it’s the promise of being able to bring his wife her regular chocolate with peanut butter.

For Henry, it just comes down to the basics: “Never compromising on the quality of our ingredients, making an all-natural product, and providing exceptional customer service.”  

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.