Frequenters of the downtown Murfreesboro square are most likely familiar with Mars’ frozen treats and gourmet popcorn. The shop puts a spin on the two classics, offering creative blends of flavors depending upon what the owners are in the mood for, according to Dave and Gina Stansberry, the owners.
“It’s essentially whatever I’m in the mood or hungry for,” said Dave, jokingly.
“He’s the mastermind behind it,” confirmed Gina, a graduate of MTSU’s nursing program.
The Stansberrys wanted to design a place for the Murfreesboro community to go which inspired their decision to create a popcorn shop in 2013. After seeing success with the popcorn, the two decided to venture into the ice cream business.
“We wanted to have a store where people could come in and experience a lot of different flavors,” Dave said.
The shop offers between 32 and 36 popcorn flavors at anytime and 24 ice cream flavors, ranging from jalapeño cheddar to chocolate-covered cherry, inspired by Gina’s love of cordial cherries. They even carry perennial flavors, such as chocolate-covered strawberry in honor of Valentine’s Day. Their popcorn selection is all non-GMO and is cooked in coconut oil. Everything is made in-house by the owners as well.
“People are so surprised when you can give them a list of items that’s in the [popcorn and ice cream],” he said.
The goal of serving hand-crafted items is to cater to every customer’s needs and desires. By knowing what every item contains, the Stansberrys insure that anyone, regardless of allergy or preference, can find a treat to enjoy at Mars. Customer favorites include lemon ice box pie ice cream and Gravity popcorn, a caramel corn drizzled with white and dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt.
As if the goodies weren’t enough to draw in customers, the look of the shop is worth the stop.
Dave compares the theme of the store to an “exploding Crayola box.” Wanting to present visitors a one-of-a-kind experience to accompany the multitude of wild flavors of sweets, David immediately turned to an outer-space aesthetic. The walls of the shop offer what appears as a crumbling space-themed exterior with colorful planets hanging over the tables and a hand-stained galaxy floor pull visitors straight from Earth and displace them in the Milky Way.
With the ambitious goal of one day owning a drive-in theater in Rutherford county, the Stansberrys brainstormed the name of their brand before deciding on MARS, an acronym meaning “between Murfreesboro and Smryna, there is an arcade you should stop and see.”
Following this dream, they implement the extraterrestrial look into their current and future shops, including the Space Cafe, their newest adventure, slated to open in late February or early March.
The Space Cafe is taking the place of Pa Bunk’s on the square and will offer everything from fresh fruit smoothies to deli-style sandwiches and organic coffee. The best part: everything is made right there in-shop with ingredients grown and made locally in Middle Tennessee.
They are even hosting a Murfreesboro artisan’s work in their shop that will be available for customers to purchase and have custom-made at their request.
Many shops on the square have closed in recent months, but that hasn’t deterred the Stansberrys from continuing their brand.
“You have to be willing to allow this market to mature,” Dave said. “There’s a lot of changes here. There needs to be a reclamation of businesses here around the square [back to retail].”
The Stansberrys will soon be opening a diner on the square as well, offering a sit-down restaurant where community members can gather with extended hours targeted towards MTSU students.
“We wanted to be a part of the college scene,” Gina said.
From movie nights to sorority mixers, Mars is open for anyone and everyone in the community to add their own mark on the flavors. MTSU’s Alpha Delta Pi even crafted their own personal flavor at Mars entitled Lion’s Crunch.
Although popular among college kids, Mars has also become an after-school haven of sorts for kids in the area.
“This becomes a place for a lot of the kids getting out of school,” Dave said. “A lot of the kids coming around here haven’t had a place to go, and they’ll come down to the shop [and have some ice cream].”
To cater further to school-aged children in Murfreesboro, the names of the flavors in the shop serve an educational value.
“We are going to include factoid cards on the back of the bags,” Dave said.
During birthday parties, kids are even allowed to “glove up” and create their own ice cream flavors in the kitchen, complete with naming their concoction that can later be sold in the shop as well.
Letting the community join in on the ice cream creation is part of the fun of owning your own shop, according to Dave. Facebook messages flood into his and Gina’s inboxes requesting for particular flavors to be made, and Dave is more than willing to oblige.
“I tell everyone, ‘If there’s something you would like to see, shoot us an email,'” said Dave.
“That’s a perk of making it here,” Gina added.
Frozen Treats from Mars and Popcorn from Mars Theater give the Murfreesboro community a local, homegrown atmosphere that offers everyone a sweet treat to enjoy.
Follow Brinley Hineman on Twitter at @_briiindle.
To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email firstname.lastname@example.org.