Holli McElwee’s memories of Kilwins in Old Town start with her dad.
The ice cream and sweets shop was “such a special place to me personally” during her time as a Colorado State University student, she said. “I’d come in here to buy peanut brittle to take back to the itty bitty town where I’m from (in southwest Colorado). I’d eat it and play cards with my dad over the holidays. Unfortunately, he passed, but I had such special memories of the peanut brittle and being here” in Old Town.
Fast-forward a few years and McElwee was back living in Fort Collins, working in marketing and making new family memories at Kilwins with a daughter of her own.
Then, in August 2022, the South College Avenue ice cream shop that first opened in 1996 closed its doors. Franchise owner Nora Hill attempted to sell the business before and during the COVID-19 pandemic before retiring last year, a decision coaxed along by her California-based landlord’s decision to raise the rent significantly.
McElwee, at the urging of her daughter, saw an opportunity and pounced.
“I was looking through (my daughter) Frankie’s school work. I came across a paper, phonetically spelled, (that said,) ‘My mommy is going to own Kilwinz. I luv their ice cream and chocolate.’ She was so proud of this,” McElwee said. “It was at that moment I knew I needed to make the leap to become an entrepreneur and create delicious products and priceless experiences for others to share with their own family and friends.”
McElwee bought the local franchise rights and reopened Kilwins in its rightful place in Old Town this spring.
“It’s the memories here: the smells, the excitement” that make it “an integral part of Fort Collins,” she said. “People come here to have happy memories and experiences together, so we’re excited to bring it back.”
The revived ice cream shop now employs nearly 20 people, she said, a “mixture of high school and college students,” including people from whom “it’s their first job, maybe the first time they’ve mopped a floor,” alongside “a Colorado State University softball player, someone who’s studying to become a veterinarian, a criminology student.”
In a college town with no shortage of raucous nightlife, Kilwins “is a place to come after you’ve won a little league soccer game, it is a place for grandparents to come and pick out their chocolates. It’s for anybody and everybody, and it’s very wholesome,” McElwee said.