Beach Classic: The Little Dairy That Could

Milk production doesn't readily come to mind when one thinks of the beach, but it's what Lewes Dairy has provided for locals and others for nearly 90 years.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Owner Chip Brittingham bought a share of the family business just two years after he graduated from high school. He has been working at the dairy “since three days before I could walk,” he says. Photograph by Steven Billups www.sbillupsphoto.com

 

At The Buttery restaurant in Lewes, the French berry torte wouldn’t be complete without a dollop of heavy whipping cream from the Lewes Dairy. It’s so crucial to the dish, the cream even gets its own mention on the menu, something that customers notice. “It creates a dialogue,” says manager Lisa McDonald. “They see that on the menu and ask about it.”

McDonald credits the cream’s high fat content with making the dish. “It’s creamy, smooth, velvety. It just whips up better,” she says.

The folks at The Buttery aren’t the only ones who feel strongly about the topping. It’s a staple in kitchens throughout Southern Delaware like The Back Porch Café and Big Fish Grill in Rehoboth Beach and the Second Street Grill in Lewes.

As popular as the cream is, it’s just one of the offerings at Lewes Dairy on Pilottown Road. Milk guzzlers can enjoy all of the favorites, from skim milk all the way through whole, and seasonal treats like eggnog.

The company started as a dairy farm in 1919. In those days, things were done by hand and as a family. There was no electricity on the farm. Benjamin Franklin’s great invention wouldn’t modernize production until 1922.

The dairy’s earliest offerings were unprocessed milk, cooled by water, which was then hand-poured into bottles with a pitcher. The family had to be innovative in those earliest days to keep their business alive. “They pretty much begged, borrowed and traded back then,” says owner Chip Brittingham. After all, the competition with other dairies was intense. Sussex County was dotted with local farms that raised their own cows and processed their own milk. The Brittingham family was so dedicated to the milk business that even the youngest family members pitched in. “The kids sold milk on the way to school,” Brittingham says.

That opportunistic and innovative spirit became a family trait that was passed down through the generations. Around the time that Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic Ocean and the Empire State Building emerged as the world’s tallest building, the family business found a new way to grow. During the early 1930s, the dairy was the first one in the beach area use new technologies like refrigeration, cooling systems and pasteurization.

All of these changes happened under the oversight of Brittingham’s grandparents, Emory and Grace Brittingham. After Emory died in 1933, Grace took over operation until 1942. That year most of Grace’s 10 sons left to serve in World War II. Production was put on hold.

The dairy reemerged on the other side of the war on July 23, 1946, when it once again opened its doors. Led by sons Archie and Weldon, there were even more changes. The first to go were the heifers. The brothers decided to focus solely on processing milk, not keeping a herd to produce it. The next thing to go was home delivery. By 1955 the door-to-door milkman had become a thing of the past. Instead, tractor trailers delivered the white froth to stores, where customers could pick up their own milk in gallon-sized jugs.

Since then, it has been business evolution as usual for the Lewes Dairy. Chip Brittingham, who has been working at the dairy “since three days before I could walk,” bought a share of the business in 1963, just two years after he graduated from high school.

“I would do whatever a kid could do to get in the way,” he says with a laugh. The days usually started at 5 a.m. and would go until whenever the work was done, 14 to 16 hours later. The long days haven’t changed much over the years. “It’s a small family business,” he says. “You do what has to be done.”

Small family business sums it up right. For all of the changes the dairy has seen, the fact that it’s been under the thumb of a Brittingham has never changed. The staff will fluctuate a little, but usually hovers around 21 employees. But the company’s modest size can be deceiving. At the close of a very long week, employees will have processed about 30,000 gallons of milk, most of which comes from farmers in Sussex County. The products, from skim milk to eggnog to heavy cream, is then distributed to restaurants and shops from as far south as Washington, D.C., to as far north as Elkton, Maryland.

So what does the local flavor mean for milk and dairy products? To Brittingham, it means a freshness that you can’t get from a gallon that spent two days traveling down I-95. “It’s in just about as good shape as you could get from an old neighborhood milk plant,” he says. The reason lies in the company’s size: “Smaller companies keep a better product.”

Staying small has also spelled success. After 88 years, the Lewes Dairy is still thriving. It’s one of only two dairies left in the state, and is the only one south of the C&D Canal. (The other dairy is Hy-Point Dairy Farms in New Castle County). Lewes Dairy is, according to the Brittinghams, “the little dairy that could.” 

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February 2016

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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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More information

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View map »


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Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $0-14

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
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Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


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More information

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Cost: $0-14

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The Station Gallery
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View map »


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Cost: $13

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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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View map »


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More information

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Cost: $0-14

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201 Hagley Creek Rd
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View map »


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Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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