Keith’s keeping up a tasty family ice-cream tradition in Ballycastle

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Cinnamon is one of those flavours that most of us associate with Christmas.

Its fragrant and warming aroma helps to evoke a taste of the holiday season in many dishes and recipes.

Taking this on board, Ballycastle native Keith Douthart, proprietor of The Dessert Bar, has dreamt up a range of special Christmas treats which showcase both the aromatic spice and his imaginative approach to sweet treats which set his seafront premises apart.

The Douthart name is synonymous with ice-cream in Ballycastle and the surrounding area which all began with Keith’s father Harry back in the 1970s.

At the time, he was trying to earn extra money for his wedding and so his ‘Harry’s Ices’ van took to the road for the first time. But what began as a part-time, short-term venture transpired into a life-long career involving the whole family.

Keith’s first memories of serving ice-cream to the public take him back to when he was a 12-year-old boy at Harry’s familiar pitch at the Harbour car-park.

21 years later, it’s clear to see how proud he is to be continuing the family tradition in his own way.

Back when Harry started out, ice-cream vending was very much a seasonal business. Now it’s popular all year round, and is very much a social occasion which brings people together.

For Keith though it wasn’t a straightforward career choice. After finishing school, he completed a finance degree at Queen’s University in Belfast before taking up a job at an investment bank in London.

“I just woke up one day and thought this isn’t for me. I remember when I told my mum she said ‘here we go again!” he recalled.

“But she was very supportive as well. Working here gives you an enjoyment you don’t get anywhere else. It’s definitely in the blood.”

Keith’s first investment was a vintage-style trike which he transformed into a mobile ice-cream stall. This was followed by his ‘Ice Cream Happiness’ van, which is often located at Whiterocks Beach in Portrush before opening ‘The Dessert Bar’ over three years ago.

With an Italian style, there’s more to Keith’s ice-cream than meets the eye.

It’s been developed with the help of a university food-science department with Keith’s academic background playing an important role as well: “It all came down to getting the correct formulas,” he said.

The ingredients themselves are more straight-forward: cream, sugar, milk and vanilla which combined to the correct ratio create the Dessert Bar’s unique taste.

“In my head I knew I wanted an Italian ice-cream from Ballycastle. It’s a hard ice-cream, which is served fresh, so it’s softer than a scoop and has a different consistency to whipped,” explains Keith.

It’s also different because it’s only available in a small number of flavours at any one time.

The cinnamon edition was ‘tricky’ to get right due to the dryness associated with the spice. But once perfected, it’s been served up in a variety of ways to celebrate the season, including the special ‘Christmas Unicorn’ creation (double cone, warm cinnamon ice-cream, vanilla ice-cream, candy floss and an edible unicorn horn!).

And it’s not just the unique menu which sets The Dessert Bar apart. Keith is committed to creating a special place for all his customers.

The illuminated roof depicting a sunny blue sky and soft grass carpet towards the counter suit the sea-shack theme but they are hugely important for people with sensory needs, while music and lights can be adjusted on request. Sensory toys are also available, along with a portable ramp to allow for wheelchair access and ear defenders for those who prefer quieter surroundings.

“We actually didn’t appreciate the difference that having these things in place would make. We know it can be difficult for parents so we just try to make people feel more comfortable,” said Keith.

The Dessert Bar is located at North Street in Ballycastle. To find out more go to Facebook and Instagram.