Sunday, May 23, 2021

Broken Chain: Sheridan's Frozen Custard, Cordova, TN

Today's post highlights Shelby County, TN, retail.

Broken Chain: A business which, at some point in its history, had multiple, similarly-functioning, physical locations where a customer could purchase goods and/or services, and which presently has a significantly diminished presence and/or value as a brand compared to the same brand in its heyday. - Zap Actionsdower

Ice cream, it seems, is a national pleasure. No matter where you are, you likely don't have to travel too far to find some. Even if it's from a chain such as Baskin-Robbins instead of a local shop, or simply from the freezer aisle in your local supermarket, ice cream can be found almost anywhere.

Frozen custard, on the other hand, is a different delicacy. Compared to ice cream, custard contains less air and more egg yolk, which makes it denser in texture and creamier or richer in taste. Additionally, custard is served at a higher temperature than ice cream, which helps the flavor last longer. 

However, while it's certainly more commonplace these days, custard still isn't nearly as prevalent as ice cream is. And not even 20 years ago, the situation was considerably more in ice cream's favor. As one article puts it, "although frozen custard has been around since the turn of the 20th century, it remained a local phenomenon in East Coast resorts and in areas of the Midwest, including Wisconsin and St. Louis." But all that changed at the turn of the 21st century, as entrepreneurs who traveled and experienced custard for the first time began to believe that custard businesses could be successful back home in their neck of the woods.

Original Sheridan's logo and cow mascot

Jim Sheridan was one such entrepreneur. On June 15, 1998, he opened the first Sheridan's Frozen Custard walk-up and drive-thru restaurant in a former Hardee's building at 6825 W. 75th Street in Overland Park, Kansas. Whether it was due to Sheridan's business or custard was simply already popular in that region, Sheridan's Frozen Custard enjoyed quick growth locally, reaching 13 locations in the Kansas City metro area by August 2003. 

2003 also saw a "nationwide explosion in the custard craze," as the Kansas City Business Journal puts it. Custard's Last Stand, the other of Kansas City's two main chains, itself grew to five stores, and "began selling franchises because it ran out of family members to run the stores themselves." In 2004, Wichita-based Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers "signed several deals to franchise up to 99 restaurants" in Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas. Texas, on that note, was being hailed as the "new custard frontier," according to the Dallas Business Journal, with just the northern portion of the state alone serving as "home to six shops specializing in frozen custard," and the possibility of seeing "nearly 20 more open over the next two years." Custard shops in Texas included Michigan-based Ross's Frozen Custard; Arkansas-based Shake's Frozen Custard; locally-owned chains Curly's Frozen Custard, Wild About Harry's, and Woolley's Frozen Custard; and even powerhouse Culver's, which at that time had 225 locations in the US. One Texas custard shop operator shared his logic on custard's Texas takeover: "I just knew that it (custard) was something that's really popular where I've been, and it's not here. So I just assumed if it's popular up there, why wouldn't it be popular here, when it's 100 degrees all summer long?"

Sheridan's was not to be left out of this "hot world of cool treats." Like its Kansas City rival, in 2003 Sheridan's began franchising, opening "its first two out-of-state locations in Watauga, Texas, and Fairview, Illinois," with "plans to open an additional six or seven stores out of the area next year." Indeed, just one year later, Sheridan's had grown to 24 US locations, and 27 by 2007, spread across 10 states. 2007 also saw the introduction of a fresh new look for the chain, as well as a new WOWIE! Card program. In 2009, Sheridan's even secured a deal to open "the only frozen custard a professional sports venue in the country," at the Royals' Kauffman Stadium. They followed this up with a location at Kansas City's famous Crown Center, which still operates to this day.

Artwork for Sheridan's franchise brochure. Courtesy Jason Bays Blogspot

Updated Sheridan's logo and cow mascot

Sheridan's, Crown Center. Courtesy Devin Blackwood on flickr

This Google MyMaps creation, dated September 2008, attempts to show all of the locations of Sheridan's Frozen Custard. At least three of the pins are incorrect -- in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Canada -- and I can't guarantee that all of the locations were necessarily in operation at the same time; but if that is true, and given that all of the other locations do seem to check out, then it would appear that Sheridan's reached its peak at 33 stores across 10 states, ranging as far away as Vancouver and Henderson, Nevada, to Atlanta and Powell, Ohio.


The Mid-South was not immune to Sheridan's expanding reach. In fact, both of the Tennessee Sheridan's stores were located in the Memphis area, with the first, in Cordova, opening on December 9, 2003. A store in nearby Bartlett followed shortly thereafter. 

Over the years, franchisee Jason Roy continued to run the two Shelby County shops, but Sheridan's popularity elsewhere in the county slowly but surely declined -- resulting also in store closures and market exits. For example, Sheridan's left Atlanta in 2012, and Vancouver in 2017. Also in 2017, one of the Texas franchisees ended their contract with the brand, opting to continue as a local business under the new name J's Creamery. Sheridan's had whittled down to six states by 2015, and only four by 2019 -- the bulk of which were located in their core operating area of Kansas City. Fairview Heights continued to be the only other location outside of KC, besides Jason Roy's in the Memphis area.

Sheridan's Henderson, NV, "before" image. Courtesy Zomato

Sheridan's Henderson, NV, "after" image. The building now operates as a Starbucks. Note that the architecture has largely been unchanged. Courtesy LoopNet

That said, founder Jim Sheridan continued onward with his restaurant business, even debuting a new concept, called Unforked Eats and Sweets, in his home of Overland Park, KS, in 2011. Not only does Unforked feature Sheridan's signature frozen custard and other desserts, it also introduces "a variety of tacos, sandwiches and salads made from ingredients purchased at local farms," according to the Kansas City Business Journal. The first Unforked location converted and expanded an existing "2,700-square-foot Sheridan's store by enclosing the patio and adding 90 seats for indoor dining;" Jim Sheridan claims that he developed the Unforked concept because he traveled the US and noticed "a growing trend toward foods that are free from gluten, antibiotics and hormones."

While Unforked sounded promising, unfortunately its debut was mired in controversy, as some Sheridan's Frozen Custard franchisees alleged that Jim Sheridan "pilfered the chain's advertising fund to finance the opening of his new restaurant, Unforked." Which brings us back into...

In 2013, Ron Hendrix, a franchisee for Sheridan's Frozen Custard in Kansas City and St. Louis, filed suit against Jim Sheridan, alleging that "Sheridan stole over $500,000 from the advertising fund over several years and used it for his own personal interest, including the diversion of over $250,000" to Unforked. The lawsuit also contended that Sheridan "pumped up the advertising fund by negotiating a higher rebate with his frozen custard supplier...about 20 percent of the custard price, double the limit allowed in the franchise agreement" Sheridan had made with Hendrix and all other Sheridan's Frozen Custard franchisees.

Sure enough, later in 2013 five additional Sheridan's Frozen Custard franchisees filed suit against Jim Sheridan, with virtually identical allegations. One, "all of the franchisees were required to pay 1 percent of their gross sales to support an advertising and marketing fund, which was to be used for the benefit of all Sheridan's Frozen Custard restaurants. But the plaintiffs allege that Sheridan began pilfering money from the fund to use for personal purposes, such as developing Oakland Park restaurant Unforked." And two, "the suits also accuse Sheridan's company, Sheridan's Franchise Systems Inc., of requiring the franchisees to buy necessary products from more expensive suppliers so that SFS could get greater vendor rebates, which franchisees say is a violation of their contract." (Sounds kinda similar to McDonald's ice cream machine vendor.)

As if all of that wasn't enough, Jim Sheridan was also hit with lawsuits from the Unforked side of his business, with "two partners in Unforked, Kenny Keeler and Kandy Fletcher, [saying] he froze them out of ownership interests in the restaurant." I'm not sure how the Unforked lawsuit ended up, but the Kansas City Business Journal does at least report that Jim Sheridan in 2015 was cleared on the embezzlement claim brought forward by franchisee Ron Hendrix. In a press release issued after the summary judgment ruling, Sheridan said, "I'm glad that we can put this behind us and focus on serving our customers with the quality food they expect from Sheridan's Frozen Custard restaurants."


Whether due to fallout from these lawsuits or just general decline as discussed previously, Kansas local Rural Retail has shared with me that even in Sheridan's core market, several locations have continued to close over the last few years. Jim Sheridan's original store, the former Hardee's in Overland Park, terminated its franchise agreement in 2019, at which point Sheridan took back ownership of the shop as a corporate location. It's probably safe to assume that most if not all of the remaining Sheridan's stores in the Kansas City area are corporate-owned (unless Ron Hendrix is still in the picture). That said, the Fairview Heights franchise store continues to operate as a lone outlier, and Jim Sheridan's Unforked concept has grown to two locations, one of them right next to the Sheridan's Frozen Custard inside Crown Center. Reportedly, at least one of the remaining KC-area Sheridan's Frozen Custard shops has also expanded its menu to include some of Unforked's offerings.

Unforked, Crown Center. Courtesy Devin Blackwood on flickr

Notice, though, that in the above paragraph I made no mention of the two Memphis-area stores. Sadly, that's because they are no longer in operation. The Bartlett store closed first, sometime in 2018. Located at 6745 Stage Road, it was just this year converted into a Tops Bar-B-Q restaurant, which enclosed the traditional walk-up outdoor patio to allow for indoor seating for about 40 guests, according to the Commercial Appeal. Prior to the renovations, the 2,700-square-foot building shared the same standard footprint and design as most other Sheridan's stores, albeit absent the giant ice cream-- er, custard cones on the sides of the building. You can also see in the images below that the Bartlett store received an updated logo at some point, unlike Cordova (which we will see next).

Bartlett, TN, Sheridan's Frozen Custard. Courtesy Yelp

Note the scar left behind from the old logo, prior to its replacement. Courtesy Yelp

The building in 2021 as Tops Bar-B-Q. Note that the architecture remains unchanged. Courtesy The Commercial Appeal

Tops interior, order counter. Courtesy The Commercial Appeal

Tops interior, indoor seating. This area would likely have been the outdoor walk-up patio during the Sheridan's days. Courtesy The Commercial Appeal

Speaking of Cordova, that Sheridan's location, at 8075 Macon Road, continued to operate well after the Bartlett store's closure. In fact, I had been to the Cordova Sheridan's many times, and was fully planning on showcasing it in a Broken Chains Edition post as the last operating franchise of Sheridan's Frozen Custard not located anywhere near the chain's core area, given that Memphis is over 450 miles from Kansas City. Despite the separation, the Cordova Sheridan's continued to enjoy great profitability and popularity locally, even experiencing "a record year of sales" in 2020, according to the Appeal.

Unfortunately, though, it was not meant to be. The reason I'm sharing this post now is because it's actually fairly timely -- the Cordova Sheridan's closed for the final time just last month, on April 4, 2021. Always active on Facebook (including running monthly "win free custard for a year!" promotions -- I feel bad for the most recent winners, whose awards are now useless), franchisee Jason Roy's post announcing the closure read the following:

Thank you, Memphis, for a successful 17 years, 3 months and 4 days!

We have decided not to renew our franchise agreement and have sold the building to a local proprietor.

It has been a pleasure serving the community!

Memphis media outlets shared further elaboration on the situation. The Commercial Appeal revealed that Roy's franchise agreement with Sheridan's had actually ended in August 2020, and that he had had "difficulty in finding good employees over the past few years," among other issues. In addition, he had tried -- for two years, according to a Facebook reply -- to sell the business, but there were simply no takers, even with the record sales in 2020. As a result, when he was approached by David Raffanti, owner of locally-based ice cream and burger chain Dixie Queen, he sold the property, netting $360,000, per the Memphis Business Journal. Roy and his family are moving to Destin, Florida. But he does state that "If anyone would like to open a custard shop to fill the void left by Sheridan's, I would be happy to consult with them on how to do it."

Cordova Sheridan's "Win Free Frozen Custard for a Year!" promotion. Courtesy Facebook

Sheridan's 2007 rebrand included prolific use of icons. Some examples are showcased here.

So... with the Memphis-area locations gone, and Fairview Heights being the only location left outside of the Kansas City metro, Sheridan's Frozen Custard is definitively a broken chain, having enjoyed rapid, major expansion to very diverse areas of the country during the so-called "custard craze," only to just as quickly re-collapse inward to its original home as franchise agreements expired and tastes changed, leaving the chain with just eight remaining locations in present-day 2021. 

In most regards, I would assume that this means that custard is once again mostly just a regional treat, instead of a widespread one. Here in the Mid-South, for example, Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers has recently opened a handful of locations, but besides that, we don't really have any other custard options (unless there are some obscure locally-owned spots that I don't know about). I'm curious what has happened over the years to all of those other custard places I mentioned earlier in this post, too -- Wild About Harry's, Ross's, Shake's, Curly's, Woolley's. It looks like Custard's Last Stand, Sheridan's onetime Kansas City competitor, is down to just two locations itself. I suppose the custard craze of the early 2000s has simply melted away.


It may not be in operation any longer, but like I said, my intention -- before the store's untimely closure -- was always to have this post showcase the Cordova, TN, Sheridan's restaurant. As a result, you'll find below my photos and commentary on this store, supplemented with a few additional images I was able to find online. Please enjoy, and let me know in the comments if you ever got the chance to taste Sheridan's Frozen Custard, whether here in Cordova or at any of the chain's other locations, past or present.

Courtesy LoopNet

We begin with an aerial view of the property, followed by two different views of the building's right-hand side, which as you can see from the aerial view faces its small parking lot. These buildings truly did have a small footprint, just enough to get the job done. Makes me wonder if the parking is adequate enough for the ones that have been converted to other restaurants, such as the Bartlett Sheridan's that has become Tops Bar-B-Q. 

The left-hand side of the building consists of the drive-thru lane, which we never utilized -- we always went to the walk-up window instead. You can see from these pics that the walk-up window is very prominently located at the front of the building, and covered by an extension of the roofline, providing shade on hot summer days as well as shelter from any inclement weather. The patio accompanying the walk-up window has both benches and tables for customer use once they receive their orders.

Like the sides of the building, the front very prominently displays the Sheridan's Frozen Custard logo, clad in neon and joined by the message "Made Fresh All Day." Notice how this Cordova location stuck with the old logo its whole life, unlike the Bartlett store shown earlier. Also note how similar the architecture is -- again, pretty much every Sheridan's seems to have shared this same design and layout.

Moving onto the patio, the setup is simple: there's a wall of order windows in the middle, taking up nearly the entire space. Behind the windows is the kitchen, where you can see all of the workers preparing the custard orders. Note the super-sloped ceiling in there. And flanking the windows on either side are two giant poster boards.

We begin here by focusing on the poster board on the left. Since the left-side wall of the restaurant, as I mentioned earlier, is home to the drive-thru, that side of the patio is fenced in, meaning customer access comes primarily from the right-hand side, where the parking lot is. As a result, the menu occupies the poster board on the right, leaving this poster board on the left to promote other things such as the Cordova Sheridan's social media handles and VIP program. Notice that Jason Roy's two locations once had their own website, That page has since been disabled.

As promised, the right-side poster board showcases Sheridan's full menu, which has quite the wide selection of treats. The menu design cleverly splits the different categories into individual boxes, making the menu easy to read. Specials are highlighted in the middle, surrounded on the edges by the more traditional sundaes, toppings, concretes, take-home options, and drink options, including shakes, smoothies, and Wowieccinos. Note, too, that the two poster boards bear the new Sheridan's logo at the top.

Image source unknown

Courtesy Sheridan's

Unfortunately I don't have any food pictures of my own to share, so here's one from online. Sheridan's boasts many different flavors and specialties, as you saw on the menu earlier. I'm sure I usually got something fairly simple though, such as a vanilla concrete with Reese's mixed in. (A concrete is a mixed custard, as defined in the other image above.) I'm not super adventurous with my desserts most of the time, haha. 

According to the Commercial Appeal, the Dirt & Worms concrete was especially popular here at the Cordova Sheridan's.

Returning our attention to the patio, the above two pics show more of the seating options available to patrons. Again, as I said, some benches have tables, some do not -- but do you really need a table for a handheld treat?

In the background in the second pic, you can see the Malco Cordova Cinema located across the street from this Sheridan's. I'm sure many moviegoers gave this place late night business on more than one occasion!

One more shot of the wall of walk-up order windows, followed by a close-up of one of them showing Sheridan's summer hours for the year (these photos were taken in 2019) alongside some other messages. If you look closely on the other side of the windows in the top image, you'll be able to see a neat clock on the wall. That was the best shot I was ever able to get of it myself, but thankfully I found some better ones online:

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy flickr

The top pic you see here actually is of this Cordova Sheridan's location, while the bottom one is not; but either way, they both showcase the unique Sheridan's neon clock, which surely must be original to the restaurant given the presence of the old cow mascot. I never saw the neon lit up on Cordova's clock, so it's especially neat being able to see that in the bottom image above. Hopefully someone got to salvage that piece when this restaurant closed...

Leaving the patio once again, here's a close-up shot of the Sheridan's logo and towering custard cones to either side of it, as seen on the right-side wall of the building. As I've mentioned, pretty much every Sheridan's I've seen photos of in my research has looked identical to this one, indicating a very common design. Unfortunately, remove the cones and it's pretty much just a box without any easily identifiable traits... but, there's still that chance that you'll be able to come across a former Sheridan's somewhere and recognize its architecture, such as with that Henderson, NV, store shared earlier in the post.

For more on the chain's architecture, here are the comments shared on Sheridan's website back in 2003, courtesy of the Internet Archive: 

The building itself was a mission. Jim encountered strict zoning laws, which prohibited him from realizing his original idea of a classic custard shop. Still, Jim fought for aesthetic integrity and won a few details which set his building apart from others. Today, Sheridan's stands slightly closer to the street than neighboring businesses do, boasts 3-D custard cones on the sides of the building, and attracts crowds with its friendly look, clean beacon of light, touch of chrome, and of course, Sheridan's stellar reputation.

Out in the parking lot -- actually in the next lot over, if I remember correctly -- was the Sheridan's catering and fundraising van. I wonder how often those services were utilized.

The van is obviously custom designed insofar as the graphics are concerned; I imagine it's not like Sheridan's corporate mandated any sort of standardized design for this sort of thing. We see the new cow mascot on the hood, and the Sheridan's logo and location/contact info on the sides of the van. Notice that the van was never updated to reflect the Bartlett Sheridan's closure, with the text still reading "Bartlett & Cordova."

One more right-side view of the building featuring the logo and custard cones, followed by a view toward the back as we prepare to approach the drive-thru lane. Even though I never used the drive-thru, I still wanted to be sure and get some pictures of it, for completeness' sake.

Courtesy LoopNet

As at the front of the building, the drive-thru consisted of two poster boards, the first one listing all the social media stuff and the second showing the actual menu. The speaker box, of course, was located beside the latter. I wonder if the first poster board ever had something different on it back in the day; it feels rather useless and unnecessary to have two in the drive-thru lane, but with only one showing the menu.

Image courtesy

The top pic in this set is my last one from the June 2019 visit on which I took most of my pictures for this post; it's not a great shot by any stretch of the imagination, close-cropped and taken out a window as we exited the parking lot (and with gray skies, to boot), but it's the only one I ever got showing any portion (however small) of the left-side wall of the building. From the little bit that you can see, it appears identical to the right-side wall, except with an additional awning between the custard cones to provide shelter over the drive-thru window. I'm not sure if there was Sheridan's signage on that side or not.

The bottom pic shows an overview of the entire structure, courtesy of a website claiming to list "five places to indulge in the best ice cream in Memphis." I guess one of those is gone now :/  This other website has even more pictures of the Cordova Sheridan's, although most of them are similar to the ones I took so I didn't post any of them here. Notice that his review was written less than two weeks before the restaurant ultimately wound up closing for good...

Something else worth mentioning about those days immediately before the abrupt closure is that, on March 29, 2021, the Cordova Sheridan's posted to Facebook that they had uncharacteristically used up all of their chocolate and vanilla supply, and thus had to close temporarily. They were back open and restocked March 30, only to close permanently on April 4. I wonder if any of that had to do with the Dixie Queen deal being in the works, and Sheridan's corporate starting to limit the supplies provided to the Cordova store as a result. Not to mention also that the franchise agreement had been expired for eight months by that point -- it was very kind of corporate to let Jason Roy continue to operate his location while trying to sell the franchise! Too bad that was unsuccessful, though :(

We'll close out this post with my final-ever photo of Sheridan's, taken on a nighttime visit (my last) in November 2020 -- I love how the neon turned out -- as well as a shot of the classic, old-logo-style "Thank You" sign at one of the property's exits back onto Macon Road. You will be missed, Cordova Sheridan's... but here's to hoping the rest of the shrunken Sheridan's Frozen Custard empire will continue to stick around, at least.


I hope y'all enjoyed this post, and again, if you have any Sheridan's memories to share, please feel free to drop us a line in the comments below. I'm sure I've probably gotten a lot of you hungry for frozen custard or ice cream, so go ahead and indulge your sweet tooth -- I went to Area 51 Ice Cream after writing the first three-quarters of this post (yum!) -- and I'll see you back here next month as our ongoing Fred's series continues! Until then and as always... thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are :)

Retail Retell

UPDATE, October 2021: Since the publication of this post, two further Sheridan's locations have closed, leaving the company with just six surviving stores (plus two Unforked restaurants), according to Rural Retail.