Long before dessert pioneers like the Eatsie Boys were making sweet corn ice cream out of their colorful food truck, Hank Wiggins was making batches of the stuff -- as well as other seasonal favorites -- at his namesake ice cream parlor on South Main. Wiggins passed away on Saturday at the age of 74 after a long hospital stay. He had suffered a spinal injury in a fall this past summer.
Wiggins and his wife, Okemah, opened Hank's Ice Cream Parlor in 1985. The 27-year-old ice cream shop is a favorite with Houstonians and critics alike. Former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh named the "homemade Southern flavor" of Hank's ice cream No. 46 on a list of his 100 favorite Houston dishes.
Walsh also named Hank's the No. 1 spot for ice cream in Houston in his 2009 cover story on the best ice cream experiences in town.
Wrote Walsh of the husband-and-wife operation at Hank's:
They used to make their ice cream in the back of the store, but the operation got too successful, and they had to move the ice cream factory a couple of doors down to a bigger space.
While Okemah Wiggins was scooping our ice cream, I asked her about the butterfat level. She wouldn't disclose the secret recipe, but she assured me the butterfat content is much higher than in the standard commercial stuff. "It's a premium ice cream," she said.
The butter pecan that Walsh loved so much is, in fact, still Hank's best-selling flavor.
According to the Chronicle's Ken Hoffman, Wiggins is survived by a daughter, a son-in-law and two grandchildren in addition to his wife of 50 years, whom he met and married straight out of college. A funeral is being planned for Friday or Saturday at Brentwood Baptist Church.
In the meantime, Hank's Ice Cream Parlor remains shut, with plans to open again soon. A sign on its door simply reads: "In loving memory of Hank, the store will be closed this week."
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