In addition to tasting Velvet Ice Cream at Utica's Ye Olde Mill, the public will be able to see a better picture of the production process, thanks to an expanded viewing area.

In addition to tasting Velvet Ice Cream at Utica's Ye Olde Mill, the public will be able to see a better picture of the production process, thanks to an expanded viewing area.

A ribbon-cutting for the new gallery and the kickoff to this summer's season will start at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Ye Olde Mill, 11324 Mount Vernon Road, in Utica.

The new 1,100-square-foot viewing area more than doubles the previous gallery that accommodated only about 20 people, said Andre' Dager, guest relations manager..

"We used the old one for 20 years for anyone who wanted to do a tour," she added. "The expansion is twofold. We have three production lines and we can expand now. The cost has been about $250,000 and when finished within the next year, it will be about $300,000."

The new viewing gallery is lower to give children a better glimpse of ice cream production, and it also contains old machinery such as a 1940s fruit feeder.

"The main feature is that you will be able to see more and it has a wider angle," Dager said. "It opens the doors to production. It's exciting to us to feel like we have a real viewing gallery."

Ye Olde Mill's last expansion was about 10 years ago when the visitor center was added, according to Dager.

Velvet offers factory tours Monday through Friday at the beginning of every hour, starting at 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"It's a way to give back to the community," Dager said. "It helps us to make a connection with the customer."

In addition to the new viewing gallery, she said several new ice cream flavors will be test-marketed in the ice cream parlor, including wild berry cobbler, banana pudding and pistachio almond.

Velvet has 50 flavors of ice cream, including vanilla, the No. 1 flavor.

"Butter pecan is the original recipe," said Dager, who favors Buckeye Classic, a peanut butter-based ice cream with swirls of fudge.

Velvet employs about 120 people and operates five distribution centers.

The company makes 6-million gallons of ice cream annually, producing 24,000 gallons per day and 3,000 gallons per hour, Dager said.

Visitors to the Mill can also enjoy its restaurant that opens Thursday and operates from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

New menu items include a barbecued chicken salad, open-faced turkey sandwich, meatball panini and barbecued beef panini.

Dager said the Mill is known for its Olde Tyme Reuben, featuring specially seasoned slices of corned beef or turkey grilled with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and topped with Thousand Island dressing on marbled rye bread.

The restaurant also features the popular "Messy Mess Sundae," with hot fudge drenched on the outside of a glass goblet and original vanilla ice cream on the inside.

"It's the most popular, outside of the banana split," Dager said.

The Mill was built in 1817 as a grist mill. The Utica property was purchased in 1965 by the Dager family.

"My great-grandfather came to the U.S. in 1914 from country of Lebanon," Dager said. "He had friends in Cleveland but wanted to raise his family in a small town. He came to Utica and ice cream was the all-American dessert."

The business is now in its fourth generation of family leadership.

The Mill is nestled on 20 acres in the Licking Valley and boasts rolling hills, forests and a picturesque pond. Ye Olde Mill features a number of activities for children and adults alike.

Visitors can enjoy the ice cream museum, 19th century-style ice cream parlor, restaurant, gift shop, picnic grounds with shelters and a buckeye tree grove.

A variety of musicians, clowns, bands and dancers are scheduled to appear throughout the year for live performances on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. "Build Your Own Sundae" nights will be held each Tuesday from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m at the ice cream parlor.

Ye Olde Mill is also host to the annual Utica Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Festival each Memorial Day weekend. This year's festival will be held May 24-26 and will be the 34th festival sponsored by the Utica Sertoma, LaSertoma, Serteens and Velvet Ice Cream.

More information about the festival is available online at www.UticaOldFashionedIceCreamFestival.com.