Ice Cream Sandwiches for Everyone!

BERKELEY, Calif. ( MainStreet) -- Ice cream cookie sandwich shop C.R.E.A.M. is so far a little-known family-owned business on the campus outskirts of the University of California at Berkeley. But owner Jimmy Shamieh's hope is that one day Cream -- short for "Cookies Rule Everything Around Me" -- is known worldwide.

The store, not even a year old, gets rave reviews from customers. With lines typically around the corner, customers wait to mix eight styles of daily fresh-baked cookies with a choice of 14 ice cream flavors and other toppings.
Cream, in Berkeley, Calif., is looking to franchise its ice cream sandwich concept.

The price for an ice cream sandwich: $2.

"It's cruel that they opened this place. Just really cruel. I'm not going to be able to button my pants anymore," One customer, Melissa L., complains on the store's Web site.

Shamieh, 53, an immigrant who came from Palestine more than 40 years ago, says the idea for the establishment stemmed from a treat his wife used to make for his two children some 25 years ago.

"My wife would bake cookies at home just like probably any household in America, and being kids they would put all kinds of stuff in between the cookies -- Hershey bars, peanut butter, but then they put ice cream between the cookies and they really loved that," Shamieh says.

Shamieh, a longtime entrepreneur, sold his small-business development company last year. Then he found retirement was not for him.

Since the warm cookies with ice cream were a big hit not only with Shamieh's kids, but when they brought friends home as well, the family started to think it could make for a good business venture. "We knew it was a hit, we just never thought about making the idea a commercial venture until very recently," Shamieh says.

Cream, through its ice cream cookie sandwiches, is another example of retailers looking to capitalize on the billions spent on frozen desserts in the U.S. each year -- $7.6 billion in 2009, according to the International Dairy Foods Association -- with products such as gelato and frozen yogurt.

Los Angeles-based Diddy Riese has been serving up ice cream sandwiches since 1983. New Yorkers turn to Milk & Cookies Bakery, among others. And there's Coolhaus, which started mobile and added bricks-and-mortar in L.A. (serving up "sammies" to customers since 2009) while expanding to Austin, Texas, and New York.

Rice Creams is a 6-year-old company that packages and distributes sandwiches with Rice Krispies treats and soft serve across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Drew Christoffel, president of the Clifton, N.J.-based company, calls Rice Creams "ever-expanding as we focus on providing our exclusive ice cream sandwich to ballparks, amusement parks, museums, waterside attractions, schools -- anywhere people congregate en masse."

Next year "is looking very strong for Rice Creams, and we're very excited about our prospects ... Once we get it into people's hands, they love it. We have a bright and delicious future ahead of us!" he says. "We plan on staying regional for the short term and continue to grow the company using larger venues as our catalyst."

Clearly Cream isn't the first establishment to see dollar signs in ice cream cookie sandwiches. It is possibly the first looking to franchise the concept.

"What we think differentiates Cream from anybody else is actually ... born out of our family's experience in purchasing or going out and taking the family" to various establishments, he says.

In Shamieh's words, the four principles are:
  • We wanted to make a premium product, the best-quality product out there.
  • We wanted it to be affordable to almost everybody. It is true we probably can charge more, but we didn't want to do that. We wanted families to be able to come and enjoy this treat and not to feel like they have to break their bank in in doing so.
  • We wanted to treat everyone who came in through our doors with total courtesy and respect at all times.
  • This was an ice cream shop. We wanted it to be fun.

Running an establishment that prides itself on its cheap prices also brings with it challenges.

"Our margins are so measured that the fat was cut to the bone so that we could build an efficient operation and be profitable at the same time," he says. Shamieh and his wife wash uniforms for their 15 employees in their home, though he acknowledges that as the company grows he's not sure how much longer they will be able to do that.

At first Shamieh's wife was baking cookies each night at home, but he has already contracted with an independent local manufacturer to keep up with demand. Shamieh also says he's gotten numerous questions regarding expansion and interest in buying a Cream franchise.

"When we started out, development was not thought about too much. When you start a new business, you think of the risks and negatives, but you never think about if it's very successful, what would be the next step? We are in a comfortable position to fully explore the issue of development. We think the franchise option offers the best way to develop," he says.

The company is in the process of creating a franchise disclosure document and hopes to start reviewing applicants for franchises by the end of the year.

Over the next few years, Shamieh hopes to not only see multiple units open in the U.S. but the beginnings of an international expansion. He would also like to begin supplying the product commercially.

Shamieh of course frets over what-ifs. "We want to make sure that our discovery process really enables us to bring on board people who are enthusiastic about the concept just like we are," he says. "Rather than just an entrepreneur who is coming in for the money and leaving when they do make their money, we want to try to keep that family feel to it as long as we can to ensure our future success."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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