R.I.P. Hank Wiggins, Owner of Hank's Ice Cream

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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