Great Shakes: Where Sip Meets Hip
Great Shakes brings ice cream chic to Palm Springs
By Kevin Perry
There’s a glorious alchemy that goes into concocting the perfect milkshake. The decadent waltz between sweetness, dairy, and chill as the disparate elements conspire to win over our palates, one silky sip at a time.
And when you add malt? We surrender!
“Having grown up with malts,” Great Shakes owner Doug Nelson reminisces, “I was pretty excited to do something different and carve our own little niche, which we’ve done.”
It’s a retro, candy-coated niche, shimmering like a sucrose oasis on South Palm Canyon Drive. “It’s kind of an old-fashioned soda shop, but it does have a little bit of a modern flair still. It’s got a colorful Will Wonka kind of an atmosphere, so it’s a fun place.”
Founded in 2012 by Doug and his wife Patricia, Great Shakes is the product of foodie passion blended liberally with traditional market research. “I kinda looked around and saw at least four, maybe five, outlets for scoop ice cream and yogurt already downtown,” notes Nelson. “We serve only shakes, malts, and floats. We don’t do scoop ice cream and we don’t do cones or anything of the like. So we were looking for a differentiation in the market. It was a personal love of ice cream but also a business decision that seemed to make sense at the time and it’s served us well to differentiate us from the others.”
But the main ingredient that sets Nelson’s shop apart from the rest of our hometown’s desert desserts: ingenuity. “Let me tell you a little bit about how we make it, which I think makes all of our shakes and malts unique from anything you’re gonna find anyplace else.”
Now that Doug has whetted our collective appetites, he delves into the method to his mmmadness (emphasis on the mmm). “What we do is we take a premium ice cream, which is of our own recipe. We have Scott Brothers create it for us in liquid form down in Chino, so we’re using a local dairy to make our mix. We then freeze it at the shop at a temperature that is warmer than hard-scoop ice cream, so it comes out of our machine at a temperature that is perfect for a thick, creamy milkshake. We then use that as the base for all of our milkshakes.”
Switching hats from confectioner to chemist, Nelson continues. “We don’t add any milk to it, which is important, because if you go some place that makes you a shake… what they’ll do is they’ll put hard-scoop ice cream in a cup and then they’ll pour some random amount of milk in it to thin it out. If you think about it, what that does is changes the formula of the ice cream, so in other words, it dumbs down the butterfat content, which is what makes ice cream so creamy and have that wonderful mouth-feel. So we don’t do that.”
The texture of this Great Shakes formula is a molten tundra of flavor that serves as a perfect landing pad for their succulent ingredients. “We make our caramel, our fudge, and our butterscotch, as well as marshmallows and any number of other ingredients, in house, so you’re getting a lot of homemade ingredients that go into it.”
“We strive to be all-natural and wholesome with the ingredients as well,” explains Nelson – but with a crispy caveat. “By customer demand, like Oreo cookies, for example, we’ve had to compromise because people just love ‘em so much.”
The crowd favorite of cookies is featured in one of the shop’s most popular menu items. “Probably the regular Oreo with our homemade caramel swirl, that might be our top seller.”
Not to be outdone, we’ve got a date with another Great Shakes crowd-pleaser. “The date shake,” Doug announces. “We source our dates from a farm down in Coachella. It’s a family owned farm by the name of Leja, and I drive down there periodically to pick up cases of dates. Y’know, so that’s one of the favorites.”
But the cherry on top of this shop is its dedication to the community. “For me, it’s a level of customer satisfaction that you rarely see anymore. Even though people talk about it a lot, I think we implement it better than just about anybody.”
And the online public has responded in kind. “If you look at our reviews on Yelp – we’ve got, I don’t know, over 1,200 reviews and we’re a solid five stars. If you read ‘em, you’ll see that a lot of them include a mention of our customer service. That’s true on Google and Trip Advisor as well. We’re very proud. We have five stars on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Google. We’re even Zagat rated! Which is kinda cool for a local little Palm Springs shop.”
Tempering his pride with a bracing dollop of humility, Doug demurs. “Forgive me for being a shameless promoter, but I really do love the place!”
Nelson’s staff concurs, showing a loyalty as cohesive as their irresistible malted treats. “We have three employees who have been with us since we opened, so we treat ‘em well. We’ve been opened for six years, so three employees for six years in this kind of industry is pretty much unheard of. We do our best to make it a great environment.”
Speaking of great environments, Great Shakes fits perfectly with its jovial downtown surroundings. “It’s very vibrant, lots of younger people both living here and also tourists coming in,” assesses Nelson. “We’re very reliant on the tourists coming out of LA and San Diego, and as for the locals, they’ve treated us very well over the years.”
Whipping his enthusiasm into a frothy finale, Nelson concludes, “The eclectic nature of it and the acceptance of all different kinds of people, it’s just a very unique area. We love Palm Springs.”
The feeling is deliciously mutual, Doug. Sincerely, Palm Springs.
160 S. Palm Canyon | 760.327.5300