Snowball stands feel the heat

August 09, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer Sun Staff Writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

For a decade, Bob Adams' summertime cooler has been a strawberry snowball on a layer of soft vanilla ice cream. Not any more.

This summer, the Anne Arundel County Health Department is enforcing regulations that require a snowball stand that also sells ice cream to be more of a restaurant and less of a shack.

Those that lack hot and cold running water, sewer hookups and easy-to-clean walls, floors and ceilings can't sell ice cream.

There are requirements for different kinds of freezers and other equipment, depending on whether the stand is serving soft ice cream or dipping hard ice cream. The stand would need a three-compartment sink -- to wash, rinse and sanitize -- and restrooms.

But there's a snowball's chance in you-know-which-hot-spot that most stands can ante up for all that, says the owner of a stand that was frozen out of the ice cream business.

Mr. Adams, who used to stop frequently at Cindy's Snowballs, a stand near his home in Chesterfield that has been soothing palates for a generation, complains that it's "kind of like Big Brother cracking down on small business."

"It's regulating them to death. It doesn't make any common sense," says Mr. Adams, who is down to maybe one plain snowball a month.

But health officials say it makes plenty of sense. Dairy products must be watched closely because they can breed salmonella.

"Any milk product is a potentially hazardous food. Depending on the way it was manufactured and handled, [it] can harbor bacterial growth," says Bob Weber, deputy chief for food control and recreational waters.

And there's a trade-off, he adds. Stands that sell snowballs plain or adorned with marshmallow, chocolate or coconut are liberated from the $150 licensing fee the Health Department has imposed in the past.

Health officials decided that regulating flavored ice is too much of a drain on their limited resources. Nobody could keep track of the comings, goings, servings and permit status of the neighborhood stands anyway, Mr. Weber says. Unless they were selling something that could make someone ill if improperly stored, it isn't worth the trouble.

Since health officials started enforcing the regulations, six stands in the Mountain Road corridor have stopped offering ice cream, a situation that has regular customers steamed and has had a chilling effect on sales.

"Our business went down when we stopped selling the ice cream vanilla bean. It's really disappointing, because it is a big seller," says Llie Weese, who works at Tony's Produce stand on Fort Smallwood Road. She estimated a 20 percent drop in sales.

Among the losses was a daily customer who hasn't shown up since the day she served him a chocolate snowball with vanilla ice cream and said, "This is going to be your last snowball with ice cream."

State Del. W. Ray Huff, whose 31st District includes the affected stands, says he's personally down from consuming five snowballs with ice cream a week to one plain -- better for the diet than the spirit. Nothing refreshes on a hot day like a lime snowball on vanilla ice cream, he claims.

In addition to losing customers, stand owners who invested in ice cream equipment are losing money.

Eddie Petree, owner of Barb's Snowballs in Greenhaven, bought a $5,000 soft ice cream machine last month, just days before health inspectors pulled the plug on him.

Exactly how this started is the subject of debate. Mr. Weber says when operators of Cindy's stand came in this season for a permit, they said they were replacing their old soft ice cream dispenser -- which had not been an issue in past summers -- with a state-of-the-art machine.

Inspectors checked it out and on June 30 decided that the rules are the rules and the machine was doomed.

Mr. Weber said Cindy Dehn, the owner of the stand, pointed out that two nearby stands should not be allowed to sell ice cream either.

Food inspectors checked out those stands. And five more stands in the Mountain Road corridor were visited in ensuing weeks and now, their ice cream is but a fond memory.

In the competitive marketplace, "there is obviously somewhat of a snowball effect," Mr. Weber said.

Ms. Dehn said only that her snowballs are superb with or without soft ice cream.

Mr. Weber says he isn't sure what the health department will do with stands that won't comply. Typically, a business in violation of the health regulations gets a warning and is threatened with fines or the loss of its license.

Mr. Adams vows if the craving gets bad enough he'll bring his own ice cream to a snowball stand. But it won't be quite the same. And he doesn't do marshmallow.

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