Facing eviction at one of its local scoop shops, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab has shut its doors indefinitely — leaving many in the community wondering what’s going on.
The popular ice cream chain, which operated parlors in Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, abruptly closed up shop last week, with little public notice of what was happening.
As of Wednesday, no notice of the closures appeared on any of the company’s social media accounts or on its website. Requests for information on the closures from Doc Burnstein’s management were not returned, and a request for comment from former CEO David Long was declined.
Doc Burnstein’s Facing ‘Uphill Battle’ for Survival
In a Feb. 7 shareholder notice, Doc Burnstein’s management said the company has “been fighting an uphill battle for growth and survival for many years” and pointed to a slate of “personal and family health challenges” as the biggest hurdle currently plaguing the business. Doc Burnstein’s co-founder Greg Steinberger, who is no longer with the company, provided the letter to the Tribune.
“All of the top managers of the company are either personally undergoing treatment or have moved out of the area in order to care for a senior family member,” the letter read. “This lack of local (and healthy) authority to drive things forward has been a severe challenge for several months. As a result, most likely, Doc’s will close in the next few days unless someone local is willing to step in and sort things out and complete the profitable restructuring.”
“The good news is that we have a blueprint for success,” Doc Burnstein’s told shareholders. “Some of the hardest cost-cutting decisions have already been taken, and profitable and unprofitable units have been partly separated.
“The problem now, more than anything else, is not having a local, bottom-line manager to finish the restructuring.”
The letter concluded with a request for anyone interested in taking over the business to contact management at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Everyone who is invested in Doc’s cares deeply about our progress and survival, and it would be a shame if our beloved company were lost,” the letter read.
Downtown SLO Ice Cream Parlor Being Evicted
Though management cited health and personal issues as the reason for the abrupt closures over the weekend, the beloved ice cream chain has been plagued with financial problems for years, numerous sources told the Tribune.
In February 2019, Doc Burnstein’s signed a lease for new parlor space in Sacramento, but ended up operating out of a mobile food truck in the parking lot rather than renovate the space. The landlord sued the company in 2022 for not paying its rent for almost two years.
Meanwhile, a new Doc Burnstein’s parlor opened in Chico in September 2019 — only to shutter a few months later. The company quietly closed its Grover Beach production facility in January 2022, saying it would instead transition back to making ice cream on site. As of Friday, Doc Burnstein’s signs were still up at the former facility, with a mobile ice cream truck parked outside.
The Doc Burnstein’s San Luis Obispo parlor has been in eviction proceedings for several months. In January, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office posted a notice on the Higuera Street shop’s window alerting Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab Inc. that it was officially evicted from the premises as of Jan. 18.
However, signs of trouble were evident before the notice was posted. The owner of the Higuera Street property, Lana Johns, told the Tribune in early January that Doc Burnstein’s was behind on its rent and had “recently learned that their store has not been open.”
Johns said at the time that she was unaware of what was going on with the business and that the response from the company’s owner “has not been adequate or plausible.” Johns declined to comment further on the eviction proceedings.
Meanwhile, the other two Doc Burnstein’s Central Coast locations have closed. A sign posted on the door of the Doc Burnstein’s flagship store in Arroyo Grande said it was “closed indefinitely.”
Over the weekend, a similar notice was posted in the window of Doc Burnstein’s in Santa Maria notifying customers that the parlor was “closed until further notice.”
In an interview with the Tribune in December, Steinberger — who co-founded Doc Burnstein’s in 2003 — alleged that Doc Burnstein’s has been mismanaged to the point of bankruptcy in recent years.
He said the business and its parent company, Aulon Arch, are under investigation by the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, formerly the Department of Business Oversight, for possible corporate malfeasance. When reached for comment by the Tribune, DFPI media relations officer Mark Leyes said the department was unable to comment on investigations — even to confirm or deny their existence.
“Today we are losing more than our financial investments in this once iconic business,” Steinberger wrote in an email to shareholders soon after the company announced the potential closures. “We also lose being part of a business that was a source of pride in our community.”
He concluded: “We should remain proud of the accomplishments of the first 16 years and the positive impact we made in our community.”
The Tribune is investigating the allegations of mismanagement at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. If you are a community shareholder, a current or former employee, or someone impacted by Aulon Arch, please contact reporter Kaytlyn Leslie at email@example.com to share your experiences for future coverage of this ongoing story.