Detroit-based HattieGirl Ice Cream is expanding throughout Michigan

HattieGirl is sold in 46 stores across Metro Detroit and is being added to 22 Walmart stores across southeast Michigan, but owner James Render is setting his sights even higher.

HattieGirl Ice Cream Pyramid

HattieGirl Ice Cream

Hattie Girl Ice Cream is a Detroit-based manufacturer. It’s one of the only Black-owned ice cream distributors in the U.S.

James Render founded HattieGirl in 2006. The ice cream uses influences from the owner’s generational southern roots. HattieGirl Ice Cream is a certified minority-owned business, the only one in the state of Michigan.

Born and raised in Detroit, Render was inspired by his great-grandmother Lula, who introduced the love of ice cream making to the whole family. He says his mother’s grandmother, Lula, taught his mother, which led to his love of ice cream. 

Render says he remembers learning some of those same techniques growing up.

HattieGirl Ice Cream Factory
HattieGirl Ice Cream Distribution

“And her grandmother made the ice cream and they had to churn it,” Render says. “And she was doing all the different flavors they made and different things. And so she began to help me make different flavors. And I loved ice cream. I would make ice cream every day when I came home.”

The name Hattie Girl is a nickname given to his mother, Hattie Foster-Thomas, by Lula. Lula taught Hattie to bake sweets and sold the snacks to farmers straight from working in the field. Render says he was shocked when he learned his great-grandparents was born into slavery.

“She was born in 1860. And she died in 1965. She was 105 years old. And my great grandfather, Lee Foster, he lived up until 107. I believe [their long life] came from God, first of all, and then some of the natural foods that they ate.”

Render says now with the business and everything passed down to him, he often reflects on his place in history and “the connection all the way back to the plantation.”

“When we look back on our parents and grandfather and grandmother, particularly who taught my mom, [the legacy of ice cream making is] a blessing.”

HattieGirl comes in multiple unique flavors like pound cake, butter pecan, sweet potato pie and vanilla to name a few. Render says he’s changed things up a little bit. Growing up, he remembers the family putting whole strawberries. Today, he purees the berries and integrates it into the ice cream so it’s all incorporated. 

HattieGirl Ice Cream has continued to grow since its inception in the early 2000s. Render says it was a miracle that the business continued to thrive during the pandemic. He says a friend encouraged him to expand the brand into suburban areas around Detroit, leading to an opportunity to meet with representatives from the Meijer Woodward Corner Market. The next week he says HattieGirl was in the Royal Oak grocery store, and then he got connected to the team at the Meijer on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.

HattieGirl is sold in 46 stores across Metro Detroit and is being added to 22 Walmart stores across southeast Michigan, but Render is setting his sights even higher.

“HattieGirl will be national … definitely is going to be throughout the country,” Render says. “God is good … and if you trust in him he’ll take you there. [HattieGirl] is gonna be national.”

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  • Tia Graham

    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.