Ice cream chain plans 10-store expansion

Lee's owners undeterred by difficult economy

April 08, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The owners of Lee's Ice Cream will kick off a 10-store expansion today with the opening of a shop in Owings Mills.

The father-and-son team of Jacques and Steven Rubin plan to open a second store in Annapolis next month, and eight more stores throughout Maryland by the end of the year.

The expansion is part of a plan the Rubins put in place for the 24-year-old ice cream company when they acquired it last year.

The company owns just one Lee's Ice Cream store, but manufactures ice cream that is sold at 15 other stores.

The Rubins wouldn't say how much the expansion will cost, but said they sold their Baltimore biotechnology contracting company, Bio Science Contract Production Corp., to pay for it.

"We think it's a good opportunity to expand," Jacques Rubin said yesterday. "We're a basic quality ice cream store. There are not a lot of quality ice cream stores left; they are all chains. We feel there's an opportunity to fill a missing niche in the market."

The Rubins are opening the stores when many restaurants and food establishments are having trouble making money, but they believe that even in a sluggish economy consumers will continue to crave ice cream.

"People always want some diversion," Jacques Rubin said. "People are always going to want some ice cream. It's like fast food. It's not doing as well as it could be, but people are still buying it."

The company was founded by Leon "Lee" Garfield, who died in 1994. His wife, Mary, and son, Scott took over, and then sold the company last summer.

Lee's is known for its heavier rich taste - it contains 17 percent butterfat.

"Our ice cream is not for dieters," said Jacques Rubin, although he added that they have a few sugar-free flavors.

The expansion, starting with the shop that opens today in Valley Village Shopping Center, includes moving its Baltimore manufacturing and distribution facility to a new building in Owings Mills.

The new Lee's stores will occupy about 100 square feet of space and create an average of 15 jobs at each location.

"We went into this because it's a fun business," Jacques Rubin said. "Obviously we want to make money, but it's a fun business."

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