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Ice cream makers churn out growth

Mooove over Ben & Jerry's.

Tim and Tim want their Working Cow ice cream to become a household name.

That's Tim Engel and Tim Pappas, owners of Working Cow Inc., a company that makes about 100 flavors of gourmet ice cream for about 150 ice cream parlors, retirement centers and restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.

Where else can customers get flavors such as pumpkin, rum raisin, funky munkey, cotton candy, cinnamon carmel and peanut butter and jelly? They also make signature flavors only for certain clients, such as peanut butter blast, which they make for Durango Steak House.

The pair started out about three years ago, doing all the work themselves and selling 40 three-gallon tubs of ice cream a week. Now they have 10 workers and sell about 1,700 tubs a week.

Pappas, 32, previously worked in the seafood distribution business. Engel, 56, distributed milk and worked in sales.

They buy their ingredients, including the cream, from all over the country. They have three machines that churn out ice cream five days a week in rented warehouse space on Ulmerton Road, near 49th Street.

Two men make most of the ice cream, arriving at 5:30 a.m. and working until they get done. Chris Kelley and Paul Dzieranowski, the self-proclaimed "cream team," say how long they stay depends on how much ice cream they must make. That, in turn, depends quite a bit on how nice the weather has been.

"People will eat ice cream when it's sunny, no matter if it's cold outside," Engel said. "As long as the sun is shining, they'll eat ice cream."

Kelley, 23, and Dzieranowski, 35, say they love their work. They are happy workers in a happy environment making happy food.

The sales manager is Roy Sattinger, a retired engineer for the city of Clearwater. The Tims tease Sattinger about his lackadaisical sales methods. He takes tubs of ice cream to potential clients and says, "You wanna try this?"

Fortunately, the Tims say, getting people to taste ice cream usually isn't difficult.

Most of the sales come from word of mouth, says Engel. "One place wouldn't even talk to us two years ago," he says. "This week, they called us" wanting to buy ice cream.

Though the company has only one white truck covered with black cow spots, it's always on the road, so many people think there's a whole fleet. They have another truck and a van that they also use for deliveries, but those vehicles don't have the spots.

The Tims' goal is to double the number of tubs they sell each year. About 80 percent of their clients are in Pinellas County. The rest are in Pasco and Hillsborough counties. They have plans to start expanding toward Orlando.

For them, the sky's the limit. The message on their answering machine refers to their "world headquarters."

"We should have said "galactic,' " Engel said.

Customers can find the ice cream in parlors all over Pinellas. But they might not realize it is Working Cow ice cream because most of the shops don't have signs that identify it.

Getting their name out is one of the things they are working on, with the help of William R. Keegan, an adviser from SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE named Working Cow its client of the year for 1997, recognizing the company's commitment to quality and customer service.

Keegan has advised the Tims to cut down on the number of flavors and types of things they make, but they won't budge. They say they'll do whatever it takes to keep their customers happy.

In addition to a multitude of ice cream flavors, they make fat-free and sugar-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, Italian ices, sherberts, sorbets and desserts such as mile high mud pie.

They do not have plans to sell their products in stores because that would harm sales in the ice cream parlors and restaurants.

Sales have doubled at the Scoop du Jour ice cream parlor in downtown Clearwater since the store started selling only Working Cow ice cream about three weeks ago, said owner Emanuel Beauregard.

Beauregard says customers like the variety of unusual flavors and that the ice cream tastes better than what he was buying before.

"It's been crazy," he said.