Cool Cow horns in on treat scene

Store: Two brothers take a light-hearted but business-savvy approach with their ice cream shop, which opened last spring in Ellicott City.

October 01, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

In several areas around the country, Todd and Scott Arterburn and their Rainmaker Group are known for turning discarded landfills and gravel mines into the gently sloping fairways of golf courses.

But in Ellicott City, the town the brothers call home, the Arterburns are venturing onto different turf - soft-serve ice cream.

The brothers, with three other investors, own Cool Cow, the brightly colored and cartoonish ice cream shop that opened last spring in the rear of a shopping center at routes 103 and 104.

Since then, the focus has been on keeping the cool in Cool Cow.

"It's a labor of love for us," said Todd Arterburn, who with his brother built the curved countertops and painted the walls in the store. "We like the concept. We love the ice cream business."

Rainmaker Group specializes in developing golf courses and senior and affordable housing. But the brothers wanted a visible business in their community, especially because their development company has undertaken few projects in Howard County in the past 10 years.

Having grown up in a Wisconsin town saturated with ice cream shops, the brothers settled on a product they thought the area was lacking. But they also wanted to serve up an experience. Hence the dark-purple cow mascot that stands at the busy intersection, waving at drivers and pointing them to the shop.

The store's design is cartoon-like, from the black-and-white cow-spotted leather seats to the walls splashed with purple, blue, red and yellow paint.

"It's just fun in here," said Pam McCarl of Ellicott City, who brought her three children to the Cool Cow for a treat recently. "It reminds me of Ben & Jerry's in Vermont."

Business has gone well, Todd Arterburn said.

Sales from late April through the summer more than kept up with operating costs. Take-home pies, cakes and ice cream bars - introduced in July - have become popular with customers, accounting for about 15 percent of the store's sales, he said.

The shop has held birthday parties on the premises and at children's homes, and it has taken its ice cream bars and mascot to local events such as the Columbia Grand Prix.

Landlords and entrepreneurs have made offers and inquiries about reproducing the store in other locations, but the partners want to take it slowly, Todd Arterburn said.

"We have to know how to manage inventory over the winter," he said. "We want to know, when we open the second or third store, how to get it profitable quickly."

One of his concerns is maintaining a steady flow of customers as the weather gets cooler. To help, he said, he plans to add coffee and biscotti to the menu and incorporate low-fat and no-fat treats to the product line.

But for Betty Peterson and several other customers who marched to the store on a recent cool evening, chilly weather is no discouragement to chilly treats.

"Any day is an ice cream day," she said. "This is really good ice cream."

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