In the corner stands a large plastic yellow cone topped by brown ice cream, with swirls of black. Tubs of ice cream -- chocolate, strawberry, mint-chip and more -- are displayed at the counter. And glossy posters of rich, colorful, whipped cream-deluged ice cream line the walls.
At first glance, it looks like any other ice cream parlor. But where else than at the Harbor Fudge & Ice Cream Shop in Millersville could you sample a chicoo ice cream cone or order a mango ice cream cake?
Most of the people who drop in stick with tradition. There are, after all, 24 American flavors to choose from. But Harbor Fudge also has the tropics trapped in the freezer -- there's chicoo, mango, kulfi, orange mandarin, figs, rooh afza, litchi and more.
"Those people who know about the flavor, who know about the fruit," primarily Indians and Pakistanis, "take it a lot," explains owner Zafar Ul Hasan.
When he offers samples to his American customers, "some of them like it, some of them don't" -- a fair response from a population to whom a litchi sounds more like a blood-sucking worm than a red brittle-skinned fruit from Asia.
Many of the exotic ice creams are classic Indian flavors. Kulfi -- whose flavor comes from pistachio nuts, cardamom and kewra, a fragrant Indian flavoring -- and mango are "very famous" among Indians, Mr. Hasan says, as is rooh afza, ice cream made from the red, fruity syrup of the same name.
Every few days, Mr. Hasan creates a batch in the back of the store.
When Thai chicoos reach his store in the Northway Shopping Center, he says, "we take out all the syrup from the can and smash up [the fruit] and put it with the [ice cream] mix." The same process applies to litchi and orange mandarin.
From here, the buckets often travel to more than a dozen ethnic restaurants and grocery stores around the area that buy Harbor Fudge's ice cream wholesale.
The Akbar restaurant in Randallstown, which specializes in Northern Indian food, buys mango and pistachio from Harbor Fudge. According to co-owner Satish Bahl, "our [ice cream] flavors have to be specially made to give it an Indian touch," because "when an [American] customer ventures into Indian cuisine, he wants to have [Indian] all the way," including dessert.
"They love it," he says.
"All Asians like it," explains Vihang Patel, owner of Apna Bazaar, an Indian Grocery store in Laurel. People "from Thailand or Burma or Pakistan or Iran or Afghanistan like it because they [have those flavors] in their countries."
Apna Bazaar sells Harbor Fudge's mango, pistachio, chicoo and saffron-pistachio flavors.
In addition to selling his exotic flavors wholesale, Mr. Hasan sets up a Harbor Fudge ice cream booth at ethnic festivals.
At last August's Pakistani Independence Day celebration in Washington, for example, he sold 4,000 kulfi-flavored ice pops.
Whenever Harbor Fudge is preparing for a festival, "everybody helps me out," says Mr. Hasan, including his wife, nephew, niece, sister and mother. Making thousands of kulfi-flavored ice pops "is not a one-man job," he says.
His sister regularly helps out with the retail side, and his brother assists with finances. Much of the time, Mr. Hasan himself manages the wholesale business, crisscrossing Maryland, Washington and Virginia to deliver his ice cream.
When he bought the shop three years ago, "we didn't have any wholesale customers," Mr. Hasan says. Today, he has 18 wholesale customers, the most recent a Texaco gas station in Alexandria, Va.
Mr. Hasan had always wanted to own a business, and with that in mind took accounting courses in college, then migrated from Karachi, Pakistan in 1981. He earned a Bachelor's degree from Northwestern Illinois University in Chicago and became an accountant.
When he was laid off from his job at the Patent and Trademark Credit Union in Arlington, he bought Harbor Fudge with financial backing from his brother.
"I was looking for a good opportunity [to run a business], and finally I got this one," he explains. "So here I am."
In addition to ice cream, Harbor Fudge sells snowballs, frozen yogurt, pies, fudge and ice cream cakes. Cakes are "a good seller," though Mr. Hasan admits that most people interested in ice cream cakes think of Baskin-Robbins or Carvel Ice Cream stores.
But for people craving a double-layer litchi and figs ice cream cake, there's only one place. Harbor Fudge offers a taste of the tropics, blending exotic fruits from the Orient with America's glacial specialty.
Now that's something neither Baskin-Robbins nor the little neighborhood ice cream truck can provide.