The United States Air Force’s facility commonly known as Area 51 in Nevada historically has been surrounded in secrecy.

Not so for its sweet and creamy namesake situated on busy Commerce Street in Hernando.

The community was all abuzz about Area 51 Ice Cream even before its May 3, 2014, opening.

The business, clearly one that’s all in the family, was rooted in necessity. Steve and Karin Cubbage, Kansas City natives — and their five children — settled in Hernando three and a half years ago when Steve’s job in the casino industry moved him to the Isle of Capri in Lula, near Clarksdale.

But the economy was not at its best and the casino downsized, leaving Steve without a job.

With their Hernando home on the market and about to sell, the family had second thoughts about leaving Mississippi.

“We liked the area,” Steve said. “Our kids wanted to stay.”

Those kids – ages 9 to 26 – and their happiness mattered much to their parents, so Steve and Karin made the decision to start their own business and stay put.

However, what that business would be was a mystery.

“He told me to think about what we could do,” Karin said. “I thought for a long time and then I offered up an idea.”

“It’s something I felt we could have a lot of control over,” Steve said of his wife’s idea. “And we all love ice cream.”

It was a sweet idea the entire family got behind.

“It came about out of desperation,” Steve said.

“And a little inspiration,” added his wife.

Only 10 weeks passed from concept to the opening of Area 51, but it was 10 weeks filled with hard work and intense planning.

They thought about doing a food truck instead of a brick-and-mortar building, but then they found the space now home to Area 51 Ice Cream. Equipment had to be purchased, flavors chosen and recipes tried.

Wanting to keep things local, the Cubbages spoke with local farmers and dairies.

And the soon-to-be family business needed a name. That’s where Steve’s marketing background came in handy.

“I just played around with some ideas and landed on Area 51,” he said. “It’s easy to remember. Not necessarily ice cream-related, but I saw it in my head and it looked cool.

“I’ve always been fascinated with UFOs, so probably in the back of my mind somewhere, that contributed to the naming of the shop.”

If the name and the flying saucer logo don’t stay with folks, the ice cream most definitely will.

Before Area 51 opened its doors, Karin practiced making ice cream in a 2-quart freezer on the back porch of the family home, which, by the way, they’d taken off the market.

“I sat with a notebook and tasting spoons and tried everything I made,” Karin said. “I took it to our neighbors to try.

“It was not until two weeks before we opened that I tried making the ice cream in a batch freezer.”

As opening day approached, Karin and Steve said they both were “completely freaked out.”

“We’d used all our savings, put everything on credit cards,” Steve said. “We put all we had into it. So, if we were going to go down, we’d go down in a blaze of glory.”

Karin had additional anxieties.

“All I could think was what if we had no customers,” she said.

It was a concern she needn’t have had.

“Obviously there was a pent-up need for ice cream around here,” she said, laughing. “The week we opened, we were out of money. But we have been so blessed. It took off from the start.”
On any given day at Area 51, anyone hankering for ice cream will find 12 delectable flavors, all made completely from scratch.

“We’ve offered 200 flavors in the two years we’ve been open,” said Karin, the chief ice cream maker and baker of other confections often offered at Area 51.

Some flavors are seasonal – only fresh fruits are used in ice cream. The fruits and berries come from local farms, such as Cedar Hill Farm.

Two flavors Karin came up with in the very beginning were Japanese Green Tea and Blackberry and Goat Cheese.

“The green tea flavor just didn’t appeal to me, so we don’t sell it,” she said. “And I was doubtful the Blackberry and Goat Cheese would be popular.”

She was happily wrong.

“We sell buckets of it,” Steve said. “We cannot make it fast enough.”

A few best-sellers are always available, like Bourbon Butter Pecan and Cookies and Cream. There’s also a sorbet among the daily offerings.

Other flavors one might find in the cooler at Area 51 from time to time are Lemon Ice Box, Mint Chocolate Chip (Karin makes her own chocolate chips), Dutch Chocolate and Salted Caramel, just to name a few.

And in keeping with its name, the Cubbages offer such specialty treats as their signature The Roswell Float made with ice cold Orange Crush, Lemon Ice Box ice cream and a splash of grenadine.

On a sunny spring Saturday, the line of ice cream lovers hankering for some of Area 51’s gourmet cream was constant.

Son Ethan Cubbage manned the scoop that day.

“Do you eat ice cream all the time?” Ethan was asked, more than once. His answer was always the same. “I’m not at liberty to say.” Clearly, it’s a job the teenager enjoys.

Two couples arrived together and took their time deciding which flavor each would try.

“What kind are you getting?” one woman asked her husband. “If I get a different kind, can I have a bite of yours?”

A couple passing through from Chicago on the way to the Gulf Coast proclaimed the ice cream to be the best they’d ever had and promised they’d be stopping by on their way home.

The ice cream is sold by the scoop or by the pint. And Steve said they’ll also sell by the gallon if that’s what a customer wants.

Clearly, the Cubbage family loves ice cream. They also appreciate that Area 51 became almost instantly a place with a sense of community.

“Sure, people come in for ice cream,” Steve said. “But they’ll see someone they know and stay a while, gathering over ice cream.”

The Cubbages call their product a “high-end ice cream.”

“It’s an affordable luxury,” Steve said. “Everyone seems to love ice cream.”

His wife and business partner agrees.

“Some of my favorite childhood memories involve ice cream,” she said. “It’s certainly proved to be a blessing for us.”

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Leslie Criss

A native of Grenada, Leslie received a bachelor of arts in English from Mississippi College and taught junior high and high school students in Biloxi for six years. She attended graduate school in journalism at Ole Miss and spent seven years at The Vicksburg Post as a features writer, editor and columnist. She was the owner and operator of Snickerdoodles, a restaurant in Corinth. For the past 15 years, she has been features and special sections editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo.