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.


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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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Story Time Thursdays 10:30 - 11 a.m. Enjoy fun animal stories read by our own zoo story-telling team! Story time takes place in the otter circle, in the main zoo, and may include a craft,...

Cost: $7 - $0

Where:
Brandywine Zoo
1001 North Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Telephone: 302-571-7747
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Charity Golf Event to benefit Children's Beach House A great way to start your Memorial Day weekend a day early! Make sure to register as a single golfer or register your foursome ahead of...

Cost: $225 Single Golfer / $900 Foursome

Where:
Peninsula on Indian River Bay
26937 Bay Farm Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: The Ocean Atlantic Companies
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
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Join us on The Patio, voted Best Outdoor Dining by Delaware Today readers! Happy hour 4PM - 6:30PM, live entertainment 6PM - 9PM, local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails, creative gastropub menu,...

Cost: menu items vary

Where:
Hilton Christiana
100 Continental Dr.
Newark, DE  19713
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Relax and unwind after a long day with the Museum’s popular Happy Hour series. Enjoy live music on the terrace with friends or tour the galleries indoors. Special themed nights will be scheduled...

Cost: Museum galleries are open with free admission every Thursday from 4–8 pm

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Alexi Natchev: Prints and Drawings will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from May 4-25, 2018. A free opening reception to meet the artist will be held on Friday, May 4 from 5-7 p.m. Alexi...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
2nd Floor, Carvel State Office Building
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
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  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Sixth annual St. Catherine of Siena Community Garage Sale held in Church parking lot. One-stop shopping! Approximately 25 homes gather in one location to make your garage sale shopping...

Cost: $25/Consignors ONLY

Where:
St. Catherine of Siena Parish Parking Lot
2503 Centerville Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: St. Catherine of Siena
Telephone: 302-239-1699
Contact Name: Mary Gispert
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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

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Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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