Even in winter, ice cream's a treat

New Moxley's shop in Timonium draws patrons hungry for flavorful scoops

February 26, 2003|By Kathy Hudson | Kathy Hudson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On one of the coldest days this winter, with morning temperatures barely climbing out of the single digits, Mary Williamson hurries into Moxley's new ice-cream parlor in Timonium.

The Hampton resident reaches into the freezer case for a quart of homemade cinnamon ice cream. "It's my favorite," Williamson beams, holding the container in her gloved hand. "Even on a cold night, the cinnamon-vanilla flavor will be perfect with the pumpkin pie I'm serving."

Williamson discovered Moxley's cinnamon ice cream at Henry's Bistro in Phoenix, then at Sweet Annie's and G.T. Pizza in Lutherville, but this is her first trip to the Moxley's ice-cream parlor that opened quietly last month in a shopping center across from the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

The store is the third expansion in the past year for Moxley's, which started as a single ice-cream parlor in Towson.

"Ice cream is a passion food," says founder and owner Tom Washburn, a former Alex. Brown corporate-bond analyst who admits to having a lifelong sweet tooth. "It is also a comfort food. It's good to have at the end of a horrible day, and at the end of a great day."

Even on a subfreezing day.

"Ideally, I would prefer to open in March and use March and April to iron out the kinks," he says. "But sometimes things like that you can't control."

Things like when a space becomes available and when the contractors can turn it into a Moxley's signature parlor with periwinkle- and light pumpkin-colored walls, raspberry trimmed tables and chrome chairs, a long counter and - of course - a large cartoon of Moxley, the ice-cream-crazed dog, smiling from the wall.

Washburn opened his first ice-cream parlor on Allegheny Avenue in Towson in May 1998 with seven flavors trademarked under the name of his Labrador retriever.

Although only 25 flavors are out in the store at any one time, the energetic 36-year-old has developed more than 100 of them, ranging from his perennial top sellers - Vanilla, Coffee Chocolate Chip and Mojo (filled with Oreo cookies) - to Boring Chocolate Chip, Death by Chocolate, Funky Monkey, Strawberry Chocolate Passion, PumpkinPie, Peppermint and Triple-Shot Espresso.

He has repeatedly tasted every one of his flavors and has the 15 pounds to prove it. Right now, he is on a diet.

"The reality is people talk low-fat, but they like full-fat," he says.

Statistics agree. According to the International Dairy Food Association, regular-fat ice cream dominates ice-cream volume shares, with more than 87 percent of the market.

"People love ice cream," says Susan Ruland, vice president of communications for the International Ice Cream Association. She notes that ice-cream sales in area supermarkets grew by 8 percent in 2001, and says sales remain strong even in a weak economy.

"Ice cream is definitely an indulgence food, something people do to treat themselves," she says.

Moxley's, which turned a profit after four years in Towson, was at a crossroads last year, Washburn says. The parlor on Allegheny Avenue served not only as a store, but also as a production facility supplying ice cream to an expanding number of restaurants, clubs and other retailers.

"We had to make a decision [either] to stay there, limited in what we could do, or to open a production facility and then more parlors to support it," Washburn said.

In July, Washburn opened a factory and distribution center on Eastern Avenue outfitted with two ice-cream machines and two room-sized, walk-in freezers. He also bought a pickup truck he equipped with a freezer cab emblazoned with his logo and hired a full-time driver.

Then in October he opened his second Moxley's parlor in a store that had long served ice cream in the Festival at Bel Air on Route 24.

"It's been steady growth every year," says Washburn, a graduate of Hobart College and president of the Towson Business Association.

Already Moxley's ice cream is offered at the elite Elkridge, L'Hirondelle and Maryland clubs, Eddie's of Roland Park and Graul's Market in Ruxton, the Woman's Industrial Exchange downtown, Hometown Girl in Hampden, Bubba's Breakaway and Wells Discount Liquors on York Road.

Late last year, Washburn pushed the limits further by taking Moxley's to Washington, D.C., and supplying Dos Gringos Cafe on Mount Pleasant Street, north of Dupont Circle, with ice cream for hand-dipping.

"We did it to force ourselves into that area," Washburn says. "The factory is right at 95. There's no reason we can't supply the D.C. area. Right now, Moxley's means nothing there."

Washburn sees opportunities for more growth in the Baltimore area as well. "Pizza and sub shops are untapped. Grocery stores are untapped, too," he says. He envisions expanding around the Bel Air and Timonium parlors until his ice cream is served up and down York Road and throughout Bel Air.

Washburn also is looking to develop another product that would be compatible and might attract more customers in the cold winter months.

He does not know what it will be. Currently, he offers Key's coffees and espresso, Naron chocolates and Sasscer's cakes. He also sells his own ice-cream cakes, T-shirts, sweat shirts and baseball caps.

Whatever he does, however, he says he wants to keep his ice-cream treats affordable.

"We do not want to be gourmet," he says. "We want to make the best product we can make, but we don't want to price ourselves out of something people enjoy. We kind of want to be everywhere, like Coke, in as many locations as we can."

Moxley's

Bel Air

Festival at Bel Air, No. 1479 Bel Air, MD 21015 443-512-0200

Timonium

2143 York Road Timonium, MD 21093 410-560-1217

Towson

25 W. Allegheny Ave. Towson, MD 21204 410-825-2544

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