Moorenko's Ice Cream looks to sweeten bottom line

By Thomas Heath
Monday, June 28, 2010

One of the best things about shopping at Whole Foods is the free samples. I sometimes skip lunch and fill my belly with free cheese, crackers, Italian bread dipped in olive oil, sliced nectarines, or any number of desserts, from bundt cake to super-fat ice cream.

Which brings me to this week's subject.

I don't usually write about the same industry two weeks in a row, but I've decided to write about ice cream again. What better time to write about the frozen dessert than in 90-degree heat? Besides, July is National Ice Cream Month, designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Last week we talked about two brothers from New Orleans who moved to Washington and opened up a chain of Haagen-Dazs stores.

This week's piece originated in a corner of the Whole Foods on River Road where I shop. It was there I found Susan Soorenko offering samples of her Moorenko's Ice Cream. A niece had suggested the cow's "moo" at a Rosh Hashana celebration, and Soorenko's trademark lawyer loved it.

Soorenko, 58, was dishing out vanilla, blueberry, honey-lavender, ginger and other flavors at a demonstration toward the front of the store.

She told me she was a fitness trainer in McLean for 30 years, but she quit her job, got divorced and lost her parents all within two years. When she and her son went west on vacation around nine years ago to take a breather, she fell in love with some wonderful ice cream, which she will not name, and decided on a new pursuit.

"I was going to bring this ice cream back here from out west, but with this particular company, you can't ship it. I started looking at [making her own ice cream] and thinking I could figure this out. So I went to ice cream school in New York."

At a hotel in Tarrytown, north of New York City, she paid around $1,500 to learn the art of making ice cream. She studied under Malcolm Stogo and Bill Lambert, both respected experts whom she found through the Internet.

Soorenko finished ice cream school in 2002 and wrote a business plan with help from her brother, who is a real estate developer and owns a commercial photography studio. He helped find a consultant to help her apply for a Small Business Administration loan. She took the plan to nearly a dozen banks before Eagle Bank in Maryland gave her a $280,000 loan at 7 percent interest.

She recruited a real estate agent she knew from her fitness days to help her find space in a stand-alone building in McLean, barely big enough for an ice cream kitchen and a front service counter. "I wanted to be in my own neighborhood. I wanted my kids to come there after school," she said.

Her business plan called for making ultra-premium ice cream, a designation for a product with very high milk fat -- at least 17 percent of the ice cream mix. She guessed it would create demand in restaurants and hotels, a business-to-business model that would bring in steady, reliable year-round revenue.

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