Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in downtown San Luis Obispo
Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in San Luis Obispo. The business plans to open dozens of new shops across the state.  (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

Doc Burnstein’s wants to add 100 new ice cream parlors across California by 2026, company leaders announced Wednesday, starting with three new shops in Sacramento by the end of the year.

The San Luis Obispo County ice cream maker — known for flavors like Merlot Raspberry Truffle and Motor Oil — has long had aspirations of transforming itself into a national name like Ben and Jerry’s.

The first step in that process? Hiring a brand-new CEO.

“I am very excited as we complete our planning of capital expansion and parlor growth,” CEO Michael Boyer said in a news release Wednesday. “We are well on our way to implementing the strategic plan that will establish Doc Burnstein’s as a national ice cream brand.”

Boyer replaces co-founder Greg Steinberger, who will move to the company’s board of directors as its chair.

Boyer was previously the chief operating officer at Digital West in San Luis Obispo. In his new role, Boyer will be responsible for “strategic direction, growth and operations of the business,” according to the release.

Central Coast roots

With Boyer at the helm, the company plans to catapult what began as a local ice cream shop in the Arroyo Grande Village into a household name.

“Since its inception, the goal has been to be a nationwide brand,” Steinberger said in a phone interview with The Tribune on Wednesday, soon after the news release was distributed. “We’ve been a bit slow with that, but a lot of businesses are. But we are getting to that point in the business cycle now where it starts to ramp up and we can get started growing.”

Flavors offered at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande

Flavors offered at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande include, top from left, Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Doc’s Java, Caramel X-plosion and Merlot Raspberry Truffle, plus, bottom from left, Motor Oil, Mint Fudge Oreo, Butter Brickle and Sea Salt Caramel. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

To be sure, Steinberger’s always had higher aspirations for his ice cream.

“We want Doc Burnstein’s to be No. 1 in the hearts and minds of America,” he told The Tribune in an interview in April 2017. “When they think of ice cream, we want them to think Doc Burnstein’s.”

The chain currently has three stand-alone parlors: its flagship in Arroyo Grande, a shop in downtown San Luis Obispo that opened in 2014 and another in Santa Maria that opened in 2018.

Doc Burnstein’s ice cream is also available in “scoop shops” — mini versions of the stand-alone parlors located in businesses around the Central Coast. The latest of that incarnation will be in the new Atascadero location of Malibu Brew Coffee. It’s also sold from special freezers at locations in Avila Beach and Pismo Beach, according to the website.

Its growth in recent years hasn’t been limited to actual square footage: Steinberger first offered public shares in the company in 2013 and again in 2017 to help grow the business; he also opened a production facility in Grover Beach in 2016 that allowed Doc Burnstein’s to double the amount of ice cream it makes.

Greg Steinberger

Greg Steinberger founded Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in Arroyo Grande in 2003. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

According to Steinberger, a big factor in the company’s latest push for expansion was the investment of Sacramento-based Aulon Arch Inc. in recent years. The small business investment firm was integral in the hiring of Boyer and the decision to grow Doc Burnstein’s into Sacramento, Steinberger said.

“They are really a like-minded investment firm,” Steinberger said.

How much the company invested into Doc Burnstein’s was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

Sacramento, Fresno and beyond

On Wednesday, Boyer said the company has laid the groundwork and is ready to push toward its goal of 100 new shops around the state, starting with three new locations in Sacramento this year.

Boyer and Steinberger said the company is currently in lease negotiations to open its first store in the capital city in the coming months, though they declined to share the specific details around that store until everything was finalized.

“It’s a beautiful opportunity,” Steinberger said, while declining further details pending a grand opening announcement.

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in downtown San Luis Obispo

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in downtown San Luis Obispo.  (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

They are also looking at two other locations in Sacramento for other shops to open this year, Boyer said.

Next year, they plan to add five additional new stores: Steinberger said those could be in the San Joaquin Valley area (Fresno and its Valley counterparts have long been a target for him because of brand recognition among visitors to the Central Coast) or in the Bay Area and Northern California.

Steinberger said all new Doc Burnstein’s would remain dedicated to the community through scholarships and public service, just like his Central Coast locations.

“We are really focused on being a benefit to the community,” he said. “One of the foundational elements of this road is that we do not lose that.”

Ice cream tourism and head-of-household jobs

Even as it expands into a statewide and then national name, both Steinberger and Boyer said the company will continue to operate out of the Central Coast.

Boyer said they plan to keep most or all of their production in San Luis Obispo County. Currently the business produces 75,000 gallons (roughly 1.4 million scoops) of ice cream per year.

As the brand grows, Boyer said he anticipates the Central Coast, and their South County production facility in particular, becoming a destination for ice cream tourists — people who want to see a production facility and exactly how Doc Burnstein’s ice cream gets made, he said.

Boyer said he anticipates the expanded company will be a large source of head-of-household jobs in the county, even helping to ease some of the loss of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025.

Toward that end, the business is opening its first corporate office in downtown San Luis Obispo in April. That location will have space for about 15 to 20 employees, including the business’s corporate support team and executives.

“We want to be a nationwide brand,” Steinberger said, “But we also want the heart of this business to be right here on the Central Coast.”

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Doc Burnstein’s manager Aaron Luncford holds a piled-high bowl of ice cream

Doc Burnstein’s manager Aaron Luncford holds a piled-high bowl of ice cream. He came up with the idea of having an all-you-can-eat ice cream night in 2011. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)