On a hot summer day in Blair County, a cup or cone of frozen custard from The Meadows may melt faster than it can be enjoyed. But a liking for the frozen treat provided by the family-owned chain hasn't melted from locals' hearts during the business' 62-year history, and franchise opportunities have made The Meadows a staple for communities in other counties and states.
Dick Meadows, 75, the president of the company he runs with his brothers Jay and Joe, said what keeps the lines of families and Little League teams out in front of the original Duncansville custard stand every night of the summer comes down to two simple things.
"Basically, the machine and the product going into the machine is the secret of the business," he said.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
The Meadows president Dick Meadows shares a laugh with Jared Kimble at The Meadows in Duncansville.
In Dick's childhood, his father, uncle and grandfather - who started the business - were farmers. They owned 30 acres of land and grew vegetables like tomatoes and corn from 1935 to 1950, until Dick's grandfather, J.V., decided farming wasn't lucrative enough to support all three families.
"I have no idea why he chose the ice cream business, but he did," Dick said.
The Meadows' found out about frozen custard from a family friend who was a fan of Strickland's Frozen Custard, based in Akron, Ohio. They liked it so much that they bought identical machines, and J.V. developed his patented formula, which is still used today.
"That's why it's creamy and smooth like it is," Dick said of their custard. It's rendered from 11 percent butter fat, and the addition of eggs is what makes it different from ice cream.
From a simple recipe to a sought-after product, The Meadows now sells custard from 22 store locations in three states. Steve Gardner, president of The Meadows Franchise Systems, said there are also more than 10 stores "in the works."
Gardner grew up working at the Duncansville location, and went on to open the store in Ebensburg. Since he's been overseeing the franchising, he said there has been a shift in interest of people who came to love The Meadows from growing up in Blair County to people interested in opening their own franchise because they experienced it somewhere else.
"It's not a childhood thing anymore," Gardner said.
"It's a true business opportunity."
Gardner is involved with the entire process of getting a new store up and running, from helping with financing and site selection to ordering the equipment and training employees.
Once the store opens, the only money that goes back to The Meadows is $1 for every gallon of mix, which is made at Galliker's Dairy in Johnstown and shipped to each store.
The gallons of mix used per week varies widely, but Gardner said the average is several hundred per franchise per week and can peak at 1,000 gallons.
"What the franchises make is their own, they're not sending anything back to us," Gardner said.
Dick said he believes The Meadows provides one of the "most simple" franchises on the market today.
"There's not a lot of strings or anything like that," he said. "It's a really simple, cut-and-dry franchise. ... It's just a good business to be in, and it has been very successful."
Theresa Bobetich, who opened a Meadows franchise in Oak Ridge, N.C., with her husband, Craig, in May 2010, agrees. She said she saw the need for an ice cream shop when she moved to the area from Altoona in 2006, and would have to drive 15 miles after every one of her daughter's softball games to get to one.
"We were used to going to The Meadows after every game," she said. "We just figured [opening the franchise] would be something fun. It's a definite need in our area where we live. We just missed it, is what it comes down to."
Bobetich said they wanted to open the store earlier, but the state of the economy in 2008 and 2009 caused her and her husband to wait. After opening, the first year was "kind of rough" for the store because people didn't know the name or where they were located.
But through putting ads in the local paper and getting involved in fundraisers to help the community, the word has started to spread.
"A lot of our customers come through word of mouth," Bobetich said. "One gentleman says he brings a new person with him every time he comes in."
Now, Bobetich has taken the nickname of "The Meadows Lady" in Oak Ridge. She definitely doesn't mind.
"It's just something about The Meadows, it's just so good," she said. "I'm spoiled, I can't eat any [other type of ice cream]."
Gardner believes The Meadows continues to flourish despite the economy because people will always spend $3 or $4 to treat themselves.
"It's a unique product," he said. "It really gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that people appreciate it and go out of their way to get it. ... Once customers get the product in their mouth, they come back."
Dick said he and his brothers have been concerned when the economy has taken a downturn. But he believes people will keep coming in because ice cream is "happy food."
"We call it the family fun center," he said of the Duncansville store. "People come here to have a good time. ... This is our 62nd year, and I don't think there's any question it's going to be a staple, well, as long as I live."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.