“I thought, ‘I really miss that place. That would be a cool thing to do,’” said Neace, of Washington Twp. “That’s how this whole thing started.”
The new business opens Friday.
Neace, a U.S. Army veteran and University of Dayton graduate, purchased at auction the former Marathon gas station in August 2020.
Finding too many obstacles at the time to opening a Ritter’s location, he obtained a Centerville franchise from Whit’s. Founded in 2003 in Granville, the company boasts more than 30 Ohio sites, nearly all of them in small towns. The closest locations are in Lebanon, Trenton and Washington Court House, according to the company’s website.
Helping with the design work was Neace’s 19-year-old daughter, Emma, a UD sophomore studying marketing and graphic design.
“My daughter … told me that if you want people to come and stay inside ‘Dad, you need a big corner booth,’” he said.
Neace searched for that and soon came across a “1957 Chevy” design, one that influenced the décor throughout the entire shop, with its red-and-white vinyl seats.
“To me, it was so eye-catching and vintage,” he said. “It helped me coalesce my vision for the inside.”
Neace also installed epoxy flooring featuring a pattern of red, white and blue sprinkles and a sound system that plays classic songs from the 1950s and early 1960s with each track highlighted via electronic screens.
The new shop’s menu features a variety of sweet treats, hot dogs, sandwiches and chili, as well as vegan, no-sugar and gluten-free options, according to the Whit’s website. It also features a massive outdoor seating area.
“I wanted a huge outdoor patio because I really wanted to create … a place where people can go and relax and enjoy it,” he said.
Whit’s Frozen Custard is on the north end of Centerville’s Uptown district across from Benham’s Grove. It’s on a stretch of road that sees 35,000 to 40,000 vehicles pass each day, a short walk for more than 6,000 students from various schools and in close proximity to Activity Center Park’s sprayground, Neace said.
“It’s just the most ideal location,” he said.
Centerville Development Director Michael Norton-Smith praised the project.
“This first-in-region Whit’s is a prime example of the kind of work we are hoping to see more of in Uptown: an adaptive reuse project that took a vacant and deteriorating gas station and replaced it with a new business that creates excitement and attracts families,” he said.
Staff Writer Nick Blizzard contributed to this report.