99 years and counting for Meadowlark Dairy

How Meadowlark transformed from cow business to Pleasanton's go-to ice cream shop

A certain summertime favorite in Pleasanton is celebrating a milestone anniversary of providing the Tri-Valley with udderly delicious products.

Local residents may be able to guess that this institution is Meadowlark Dairy in downtown Pleasanton, which is officially marking its 99th year in operation in 2018.

"It's nice because it is really historic," resident Barbara Smith said while enjoying Meadowlark ice cream with her daughter and grandchildren at the Pleasanton Police Department's "Cone with a Cop" community event last week.

"When (my daughter) was a kid, we would come up here, way back when. It's really nice to see some of the businesses that were here still be here, and it feels good to support local businesses," Smith said.

As a local staple for nearly a century, Meadowlark Dairy is probably synonymous with Pleasanton for almost every resident.

Originally founded by Walter Briggs Sr. on 153 acres of land off Foothill Road in 1919, Meadowlark holds the distinction of becoming the first certified dairy in California, earning a grade A designation for cleanliness and quality.

In its original days -- before its conversion to a family-favorite ice cream parlor -- the dairy housed cows and had facilities to process the raw milk produced by the herd on the land that is now home to the city's historic Alviso Adobe Community Park. The dairy products, particularly milk, butter and cream, were then sold to schools and stores throughout the region.

After World War II, Jannes and Janna Takens immigrated to the U.S. from war-ravaged Holland and eventually made their way to Pleasanton, where they worked for the Meadowlark Dairy owners.

In 1958, the Takenses signed a 10-year lease for the dairy and then bought it in the 1960s after the original owner's death. They soon moved the dairy's cows to Tracy, and in 1969, they built the drive-thru processing plant in downtown Pleasanton at 57 W. Neal St. that still stands today.

Jannes and Janna sold the dairy to their son Bruce, in the early '80s. Bruce would become the first in the Takens family to produce ice cream in Pleasanton, and he eventually converted the family's milk processing plant into the drive-thru/walk-up ice cream shop Meadowlark is now known for.

"Ice cream started when my dad was making school deliveries back when we were still doing our own processing," said Bruce's son Jesse, who now owns Meadowlark with his wife Kelsey.

"My dad bought a van from the school district after they said, 'OK we are going to auction off these vans and then whatever is inside of them you have to take with it.' After he bought it, in the back was an ice cream machine, and he thought, 'Well why don't I try to make some ice cream mix?' And that's what he did," Jesse said.

Meadowlark's focus would soon shift when Bruce also decided to sell the family cows and outsource their milk production; today the store gets its dairy products from Crystal Creamery in Modesto.

"Three days a week we would process milk here and put it into cartons and bottles and sell it to schools and other businesses all around," said Jesse's uncle Robert, who remembers helping build the dairy roof in 1969. "In the mid '80s, 1986 I think, we sold the cows. Got out of the cow business and just became retail."

Meadowlark still sells milk, butter and cream among other items, but today its primary product is its beloved soft-serve ice cream, which comes in a variety of flavors and non-dairy options.

"Ice cream is really what we try to make money on," Jesse said. "The land is so expensive out here that you can't really keep cows (here) anyways."

Bruce operated Meadowlark until January, when he retired and passed it to the third generation of Takenses to operate the dairy, trusting it in the hands of Jesse and Kelsey.

The dairy has seen its share of changes over the decades but not as much as the city of Pleasanton, according to Robert, reflecting on the city's shift from agricultural roots to the much higher populated, residential suburb it has become.

So after 99 years in business, what does the Takens family say is Meadowlark Dairy's key to success?

"Honestly I think it's the kids; they're always happy," Jesse said, referring to the local high school students who work the dairy, a sentiment echoed by his family.

"Hiring the local kids keeps the energy up and the circle going so to speak," Robert added.

Jesse explained that during the summer, the dairy usually employees roughly 40 high school students to help with the increased demand for Meadowlark's frozen treats. When the summer ends and the teens begin returning to school, that number is expected to decrease by over 50%.

"In about two weeks we are going to lose at least 18 so that's always fun," Jesse said with a laugh.

"I think listening to what the people want, being neighborly and keeping prices down always helps," Kelsey added, good-naturedly.

Whatever the reason, plenty of ice cream lovers from across the Bay Area will come by to sample the dairy's products, and Pleasanton residents in particular seem to appreciate the ice cream.

"We like the flavors and the experience. It's like the only dairy around here anymore where you can do this. Usually we drive through and eat it in the car, but it's nice out today," Sarah Fosson said, enjoying a cone outside Meadowlark on Friday afternoon. "We live in San Ramon and will drive down 20 minutes to come here; it's for the experience."

"We like this place. We love the dairy. They have great service, their ice cream is the best in town and we just love it," Azin Shetty said Friday while at the dairy with her three sons. "We actually come here a lot."

"Nu-uh," protested her son Nathan.

"We do once a week and that's still not enough for them," Azin laughed.

Acting as the cherry on top of celebrating the 99th anniversary, Meadowlark was again selected by Weekly readers as their favorite spot for ice cream/frozen yogurt in this year's Readers' Choice contest.

The owners said they work hard to bring people together and will hold community-oriented events like "Cone with a Cop," which it hosted July 25 for the third year in a row.

"It's an icon in Pleasanton. They've always been very supportive, when we looked for a partner for summertime events a couple of years ago, they stepped up and we've been doing it ever since," Pleasanton police spokeswoman Shannon Revel-Whitaker said of Meadowlark. "The ice cream is the best, and the employees. I mean (Meadowlark) is everything that Pleasanton represents. They are friendly, small-town and personable. It's great."

While the summer will soon be nearing an end, Meadowlark isn't going to let the slower season stop the fun. Starting next month, the dairy will introduce a new ice cream flavor every week, rotating a wide variety of flavors to try.

In all, 11 special flavors will be produced, including New York cheesecake, mint chocolate chip, marshmallow, peppermint patty, toasted coconut, cookies and cream, Nutella, cookie dough, praline, red velvet and s'mores. The order is not yet specified, so residents will get to be surprised by what flavor comes up each week.

"We did a Twitter post asking what flavors people would most like to see, and mint chip was the most popular. So we're going to do that and a few others. Why not? It will be fun," Jesse said. "Working here you have fun while you're doing it. It makes the work even more rewarding."

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Like this comment
Posted by david
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 3, 2018 at 7:17 am

david is a registered user.

What is the street address for Meadowlark Dairy.


Like this comment
Posted by Ryan J. Degan
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 3, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Ryan J. Degan is a registered user.


Meadowlark Dairy is located on 57 W, Neal St., Pleasanton.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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