PALM HARBOR — In a gravel lot at the corner of Tampa Road and Alt. U.S. 19, there's a small, old-fashioned-looking ice cream shop. A small herd of black and white ceramic cows out front catch the eye of passers-by in cars — especially children.
Strachan's Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts serves up 36 flavors of ice cream plus baked goods like double-layer carrot cake. The shop seems so simple and low-key. Customers digging into a sundae may not realize just how much time and effort it took the owners to make their dream come true.
"This business was inspired by my lifelong love of ice cream," says Susan Strachan, 66, who along with her husband, Bill, 70, opened the shop in 1999 after moving to Florida. "I had a taste for soft-serve ice cream I acquired in Illinois, and now I make it."
It wasn't easy.
For starters, the couple spent about $250,000 to convert an old fruit stand into their eye-catching shop, now filled with freezers of cakes and pies and bins of colorful ice cream. It took 14- to 16-hour days, seven days a week, for five years to make it a go.
"We only took off for Christmas, Thanksgiving and surgeries," Susan Strachan said. "Bill had seven major surgeries in that time, and I had one."
She had been an insurance executive, and he had been an airline employee. Then they quit their corporate jobs to do something completely different.
Their booming business, which now includes a second shop opened in 2008 on Main Street in Dunedin, began with hands-on lessons. Strachan attended ice cream making classes at Pennsylvania State University and then the University of Maryland.
"Bill was recovering from knee surgery, so I went to the classes and taught him what I learned," she said. "Then we started practicing in our garage."
Their sole ice cream machine, a $20,000 investment, is now operated by a trained ice cream maker in the Dunedin shop out of necessity.
Strachan, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has trouble standing for long periods, and her husband has knee problems.
Strachan knew early on that she wanted to make more than ice cream. The pair had owned farmland in Illinois, and she made pies and cakes from homegrown cherries, apples and pears. From those memories, she created a number of cakes and pies, using old recipes and new.
"We can hardly keep the baked goods in stock," she said. The top seller is carrot cake, but other delicacies include coconut cake, homemade peach and berry cobblers, peanut butter chocolate pie and a new treat — key lime pie dipped in chocolate on a stick.
Looking forward, Strachan's goals are simple: "We just want to keep high standards, high quality products and see people happy eating our ice cream."