San Jose native Janikke Klem has a Friday tradition with her seven-year-old twins. Every week, the Willow Glen family goes out in search of new local dessert shops to try, whether that be a bakery, chocolate shop, or candy store.
But one of her long-adored local ice cream brands from her own childhood—which has become a family favorite with her twins—is Treat Ice Cream.
“My parents shopped at Lunardis and I remember them picking up these tubs of Treat ice cream, with the best flavors,” she said. “From the coffee to the seasonal pumpkin to the peppermint—it’s delicious ice cream that’s high quality and super creamy.”
The ice creamery has been a hometown favorite since 1951, with a manufacturing facility in San Jose’s Naglee Park. But on April 15, that facility will close as the company becomes part of the Santa Cruz-based Marianne’s family of ice cream purveyors.
The sale and facility closure isn’t entirely because of the Covid-19-induced recession, but the downturn didn’t help after years of struggling to make a profit and often coming up even, says Bob Mauseth, who took over the business in 2001 from his father.
Treat’s absence will add to the growing list of longtime restaurants and retailers the South Bay has lost over the past year, and it means one less player in San Jose’s food ecosystem, says Ryan Sebastian, owner and operator of San Jose-based Treatbot Ice Cream.
“The food ecosystem is so important to getting people off the ground, and Treat is very much a part of the food ecosystem—particularly around dessert,” he says. “Their products are all over the place, but they’re in places that are more locally owned or operated.”
To date, there is no final, official tally of the restaurants and retailers lost in the South Bay or even San Jose during the pandemic, but when there is, the list will include a slew of longtime staples.
Pizzetta 408, Vitamina and Vero Coffee all closed in the SoFA Market in downtown San Jose. Forager food hall and events center called it quits across the street from the SoFA Market and Chacho’s owners threw in the towel on the San Jose location without viable revenue streams, a series of break-ins and what they described as little support from local officials. Cinebar, the South Bay’s oldest watering hole, went up in literal flames mid-January.
New players, like The Guildhouse, a gamer lounge slated to be a “spiritual successor” to the former AFKgg Gamer Lounge, will also open in downtown this year, but before then, Good Spot, a new gastro lounge, is preparing for its grand opening in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Natural Sweet, a Colombian and Italian eatery, opened in the SoFA Market in February. Nirvana Soul coffee shop and Portugese fast-casual eatery, Petiscos, also opened nearby in downtown during the pandemic. The businesses are braving what are in normal times the first grueling years in operation, but now include oscillating lockdown measures due to the pandemic.
Klem likes seeing the new restaurateurs and entrepreneurs arrive, but says she hopes local lawmakers and residents will find ways to support the new businesses alongside the long-established institutions that have long made the region more colorful and enjoyable.
“That’s what breathes life and soul into our community, and provides opportunity for engagement,” she says. “While Treat might be going away, I hope people are still seeking their treats in the local neighborhood spots.”
‘Coming to an End’
Treat Ice Cream opened in 1951, launched by Alfred Mauseth, known to dedicated customers as “Mr. Treat.” It became a hidden, but beloved, gem on the edge of a small parking lot with no signage in San Jose’s Naglee Park neighborhood.
It’s an easy storefront to miss, longtime fans admit, but with rich flavors like Tin Roof Sundae, Black Raspberry Ripple and Cookie Mint Crunch, they say it was well worth the search. The Mauseths were proud of making their own chocolate and fudge in-house.
“We’re just a simple ice cream factory, and we’re a family business, with my parents starting the store and then my sister, brother and myself stepping in later,” says Bob Mauseth.
Despite the family history, Mauseth says he’s known for at least three years the family needed to discuss other options as profits dwindled and some siblings moved on to other jobs. Covid-19 impacted Treat, but it was just one small factor in the decision to close the Naglee Park warehouse and sign over the business to another local favorite, Marianne’s.
“I love having the business and I love running it,” Mauseth says. “But we knew it was coming to an end.”
Sebastian originally heard about Treat as a child when his aunt mentioned the “hidden place” where you could buy ice cream. In 2010, he launched his Treatbot karaoke ice cream truck and worked in tandem with Treat’s owners to sell their product across the city and learn more about making ice cream.
Years later, in 2012, Sebastian opened his own ice cream manufacturing facility, but kept in contact with the Mauseths, finding a connection with Al Mauseth before he died in 2015.
Treat’s facility closure and sale proves just how tough the food business can be, even without a pandemic, Sebastian says. He knows that first-hand after running a Treatbot location in San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose until the Covid-19 hit. While Sebastian decided to close the food hall location last summer, the company and its ice cream truck roots are still alive, he says.
That’s lucky following a year in which about 1 million California jobs were lost in the restaurant industry, though some have returned since lockdown orders have loosened, according to the California Restaurant Association. Nationwide, one in six restaurants closed after food service sales dipped $240 billion compared to expected levels, according to recently released data by the restaurant association.
Even so, Sebastian is optimistic about the future of Treat under the management of Marianne’s. “Marianne’s is excellent,” he says. “The owners are really forward-thinking and want to do new things. I don’t think they’re just going to buy [Treat] and close them.”
The Food Ecosystem
Indeed, Charlie Wilcox, co-owner of Marianne’s, says the Treat brand will carry on.
Marianne’s as a company has had a relationship with Treat since 1963, when the original owner of the Santa Cruz ice creamery, Sam Lieberman, and Al Mauseth began sharing tricks of the trade. Sam Lieberman used to say he learned everything he knew about making ice cream from Al Mauseth, Wilcox says.
“Al was a very giving person in the ice cream industry in Northern California, and helped out lots of folks,” Wilcox says. “Many of the recipes that Marianne’s used over the years came from recipes that Al originated and shared, and there were recipes Sam originated and shared back to Al—there’s a lot of parallels and relationship between the companies.”
Treat’s production line, recipes, and some key employees will move to a brand new facility in Santa Cruz within the next 60 days. San Joseans can still scoop up the new Treat products via Marianne’s delivery, which has distributed ice cream up the Peninsula daily for more than 35 years.
“We want to carry Treat forward the same as it ever was,” Wilcox says. “In terms of flavors and ingredients, everything will still be Treat. Marianne’s has a ton of respect for Treat and the Mauseths and what they’ve created.”
Klem is grateful she and her twins will still be able to get the quirky flavors that Treat has specialized in, like Ube Purple Yam. But the San Jose facility closure feels “almost like it’s a pushed-forced retirement,” she says. ”I’m hoping that it’s pushed in a way that still works for them.”
Sebastian worries what the sale of the company and the closure of the local facility will mean for the local business scene long term.
“Treat was a local ice cream brand that was in local institutions, and that made for a stronger local food ecosystem, which in San Jose we’re still trying to develop,” Sebastian says. “These changes are difficult for the food ecosystem.”