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New player on San Francisco ice cream scene aims to challenge Mitchell’s

Archival photos of Loard's ice cream parlors. | Courtesy Brian Tam

Nostalgia conjures a rose-colored view of the past—whether based on real or imagined memories—meaning you can long for an era you never actually experienced. Take Brian Tam, for example. The 35-year-old Oakland native discovered a delicious sense of nostalgia as a young college graduate, when he took the helm of beloved 1950s-era Loard’s Ice Cream.

Founded during an unusually sweltering summer in 1950, Loard’s now consists of 10 delightfully retro ice cream parlors. With its heart-shaped chairs, Formica counters and pink and white vinyl booths, Loard’s eschews both modernization and homogenization. Each parlor is a little different, but the impossibly rich ice cream remains consistent. 

Tam has no plans to make any modifications to the recipe—or his humble business model—anytime soon, he said.

A couple of things are about to change, however, and The Standard has the scoop—if you’ll forgive the pun.

The flagship location at MacArthur Boulevard and Coolidge Avenue in Oakland will reopen next month after a three-year closure. Shortly after, a brand-new shop will debut at 20th and Connecticut streets in Potrero Hill—the first and only Loard’s Ice Cream in San Francisco. The new location takes over from Dave’s Food Store, which shuttered in 2020.

Brian Tam scoops ice cream into a waffle cone at Loard's Ice Cream. | Courtesy Brian Tam

Though Tam’s family owns the trademark and production plant, he told The Standard that all locations are independently owned and operated—sort of like a franchise, though with much less corporate control. Currently, there are Loard’s ice cream parlors in Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, Castro Valley, Moraga, Orinda, Dublin and Livermore.

“We don’t control how others run their stores,” Tam said. “So there’s way less control than a typical franchise.” 

Originally, the scoop shop was a longtime dream of a UC Berkeley admin named Russ Salyards. During the summer solstice, Salyards debuted Loard’s Ice Cream in Oakland alongside business partner John Lowe. In 1960, he opened an ice cream factory in San Leandro to scale up production.

The business has changed hands a few times over the decades, Tam said. His family purchased the company from Dave DeMarinis, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made semiconductors. 

A newspaper ad promotes the grand opening of Loard's Ice Cream in San Leandro. | Courtesy Brian Tam

Notably, Tam said Loard’s hasn’t altered its production process in any significant way since the factory first opened. His shoestring team of seven full-time employees still operates the same original freezer. Each quart of Loard’s 40 regular flavors of ice cream and sherbet is hand-scooped and lidded. And Tam spilled the sprinkles on what makes Loard’s ice cream so rich—it’s the 15% butter fat churned into every scoop.

Tam joined the ice cream biz shortly after finishing college. He said his father, the former owner of nearby Oakland grocer Farmer Joe’s, purchased the trademark and factory and began selling quarts of ice cream at his store and to Berkeley Bowl to stabilize Loard's year-round business.

Though Tam agrees Loard’s is a true gem in the Bay Area, he’s loath to think about expanding too quickly as other West Coast brands like Humphry Slocombe and Salt & Straw have done.

“I think for us to really grow larger than the Bay Area would require more than we can handle,” he said. “I’m more focused on helping out the stores, and we’re already quite busy.” 

The Alameda location of Loard's, though recently renovated, contains the original ice cream counter. | Courtesy Brian Tam

For his part, Tam is involved with almost every aspect of the business. Admitting that production is still his Achilles' heel, he regularly works as a lidder in the factory and a scooper in the ice cream parlors. 

When The Standard met Tam, we saved the most important question for last. His favorite flavor?

“Peanut butter fudge—definitely.”