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Published 10/17/2007

Guernsey Farms Dairy was founded in 1940 by John McGuire, whose recipes are still in use today. For 67 years this has been a family-owned and -operated business, one of the oldest in Novi. Their processing plant and dairy store and restaurant are all located in the same location on Novi Road.

Metro Times: How many family members work here today?

Marty McGuire: Probably, with summer and school and times in and out, there's between 25 and 30 family members working here. All my 13 brothers and sisters worked here at one time or another. Now, we've got the third generation here. My dad, the founder, is 99 now and he still comes down here from time to time.

MT: Describe the evolution of your business.

McGuire: The business started in a little wooden store. It was down the street from Northville Downs, the racetrack. My mom would go down there and help him make ice cream. She said that the humming of the machine would put the babies to sleep. We all worked down there. The way Dad taught us business was he had a popcorn machine that we would set up in front of the store. We had to buy our popcorn and supplies and paper goods and we had to make a profit. We learned about buying and selling and had to keep track of our inventory. We would start when we were about 8 years old. I still remember my first bank deposit in my savings account was $13. We moved to this location in 1966. This was mostly farm land at that time. We were out in the country. At first it was just an ice cream parlor. As the development began, construction workers would come in to get something to eat. All we had was ice cream, so we started making sandwiches and then finally got some restaurant equipment and put in some booths. Around 1980 we got out of the home delivery business and got into the wholesale business, selling our products to markets. In 1984 we won a contest for our butter pecan. After it was mentioned in People magazine, we went from selling 200 half gallons a week to 2,000.

MT: Have there been many attempts to buy you out?

McGuire: There's been a few that have contacted us, but we're really not interested in getting rid of it. The next generation's interested in taking it on. It makes my dad so happy to see how much of the next generation — 48 grandchildren and about 60 great-grandkids — wants to take it on.

MT: I have heard that there is some controversy over the BST issue, that is, some people are skeptical about the user's ability to authenticate the use of non-BST milk and whether the use of BST is harmful.

McGuire: BST is a hormone that is naturally in a cow. It causes the cow to produce milk. By injecting a cow with additional amounts, it will produce more milk. According to the FDA, there is nothing wrong with it. We think that genetics should never be altered. The issue has been around for about 12 years. Being that we're a family business and we're concerned about the kids, we've always kept it out. We get a signed affidavit from the farmers at the co-op where we buy milk that they won't use it. They are mostly small farmers who we trust. The farms are all in Michigan. They, like us, are inspected by the state.

MT: Can you taste the difference?

McGuire: No.

MT: Tell me about the significance of the butterfat content in ice cream. I have read that one of your competitor' products have 18 percent content.

McGuire: My dad always said when you go over 12 percent butterfat, it's too much fat. For one, you've got to add too much more flavoring to cover up the fat taste. We have used higher fat content in the past, but we find that 12 percent is the perfect balance. At one time, we made a Black Russian ice cream for a local hotel. It was hard to freeze. We had to let it agitate for 18 hours in order for the stabilizers to work with all that alcohol. It had Myers's rum and Kahlúa and chocolate chips and almonds and real dark chocolate ice cream in it. You had to be 21.

MT: How do you feel about the competition, such as Carvel, Cold Stone and Oberweis, some of the newer players on the scene?

McGuire: We've been around. We've been established and we have loyal customers. I'm sure they're going to try other stuff, but I think they come back because ours is better quality. We've got a lot of years of tradition. My dad is 99 years old. He eats ice cream every day. It's got to be good stuff.

MT: How have peoples' eating habits and food attitudes affected your business?

McGuire: Our skim milk is our No. 1 seller. It used to be whole milk.

MT: What about ice cream?

McGuire: People still treat themselves and their families and splurge on ice cream.

Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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