While many homegrown small businesses have shuttered their doors during the ongoing down economy, one local enterprise is enjoying the sweet taste of success.
Donald Wagner and his wife, Donna, will hold a grand opening Saturday of a second Papa Clyde's Ice Cream outlet, this one in Sherwood Plaza.
The couple took over the Papa Clyde's store in Kass Circle in 1990, and business has been on the rise ever since, despite the recession that has crippled businesses nationwide.
The couple attribute their success to their use of pure, natural and quality ingredients. Every one of their creamy treats is made in house, with waffle cones baked daily. And the Wagner family personally greets and serves each customer, Donald said.
The new shop at 4129 Mariner Blvd. closely replicates the menu of Papa Clyde's Kass Circle establishment: 36 ice cream flavors, milk shakes, root beer floats, New York egg creams, homemade ice cream sandwiches on Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, ice cream cakes decorated by Donna, frozen bananas, take-away quarts of ice cream and, an addition, soft-serve ice cream.
Donald, 54, doesn't recall eating an ice cream cone in New York's the Bronx, where he grew up. He remembers his dad giving him a quarter to buy a Good Humor bar.
A big one-scoop cone at Papa Clyde's goes for $2.35 today. "If you look around, at a mall, it's close to $5," he noted.
"Quality ingredients are very expensive, but important," Donald added. "Ingredients are shipped from all over the country — real cream, real vanilla, real nuts."
Some purveyors use "fake" nuts artificially flavored to resemble pistachios or pecans, he pointed out. The Wagners buy authentic pistachios at $10 a pound, pecans at $8 a pound.
Then there's the cream of 14 percent butterfat. "That's considered supercreamy in the industry," Donald explained.
Among ice cream-based beverages, the No. 1 choice is the $4.25 milk shake. "Milk shakes fly out of here," he said.
The economy, the Wagners believe, has helped their business. "Ever since gasoline got expensive, maybe people aren't traveling so much, so we've picked up," Donald said. "People just come for the old-fashioned treat."
Even the past several chilly winters haven't kept customers from ice cream. "Northerners say 40 degrees is warm," he noted.
Although 70 percent of Papa Clyde's business takes place after 7 p.m., the new shop's daily hours are noon to 9 p.m., till 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Treat lovers will meet Donald, Donna, daughter, Jennifer, 25, and son, Robert, 21. The family employs two others.
Donald couldn't chat long, his ice cream machine was beckoning. Soon, he was back stirring up a batch of Butterfinger, its butterscotch base tricked out with pieces of Butterfinger candy. It was just some of the 400 gallons of ice cream churned weekly at Papa Clyde's.
And, oh my, the flavors, many of which the Wagners have made up: moose tracks, rainforest, peanut butter overload, banana cream pie, Kahlua, chocolate raspberry, cotton candy, bubble gum, cookie dough and more.
The most popular flavor?
"Good old vanilla," Donald said with a chuckle. "I've never been able to figure that out."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org