Blairsville parlor finds niche with Penn State ice cream
By Jeff Himler
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
When the mercury rises outside, business likewise heats up inside Blairsville's Scoops ice cream parlor.
On a recent weekend, when unseasonably warm temperatures gave residents a break from lingering winter weather, “It was like July in here,” owner Gene Pellegrene said.
But, Pellegrene doesn't dish out just any frozen confection — a fact that has made Scoops a viable year-round venture since he and his wife, Kendy, opened it on July 8, 2010.
One of Pellegrene's primary drawing cards is his decision to serve only premium ice cream obtained from the Berkey Creamery at Penn State University.
“I absolutely would not have opened the store if I couldn't get this ice cream,” Pellegrene said. “I felt this was such a cut above all the other products out there. In order to make a small business successful, you need to have something that's unique.”
While there are some other stores that serve the Penn State-produced ice cream, including one in DuBois, Pellegrene said there are none he knows of aside from Scoops in the immediate area.
“The store has been well received,” he said. “A lot of people drive down from Indiana, some once a week. People come in from Pittsburgh and Greensburg who want this ice cream.”
According to Pellegrene, Scoops has become a destination for some motorcycle groups that make “dessert” runs during warmer months. Also, Penn State alumni and others from western Pennsylvania who have become fans of the Creamery ice cream have found it more convenient to drive to Scoops instead of traveling all the way to State College to enjoy a taste of their favorite frozen treat.
Pellegrene said he and his wife became fans of the Creamery ice cream when a friend brought some to their home. “It was just so good,” he said. “All their ice cream has a rich flavor to it.”
The Berkey Creamery doesn't deliver its products. Each Monday, Pellegrene makes a 200-mile round-trip to the university to pick up his weekly supply of ice cream and the occasional sherbet. On an average Monday, Pellegrene said, he'll haul between 16 and 23 three-gallon tubs of ice cream packed in dry ice from Penn State to Blairsville.
Compared to many other ice cream brands, the premium Creamery line carries a higher cost that is reflected in the prices Pellegrene charges. But he said his customers expect a high quality product and are willing to pay for it.
While Scoops charges $4.75 for a regular milkshake, Pellegrene pointed out, “I'll use about a pint of ice cream for a 25-ounce milkshake.”
Tom Palchak. manager of the Berkey Creamery, noted the facility is a teaching, research and outreach support unit of Penn State's department of food science. .
Since the Creamery is not in the business of competing with independent retailers or dairies, Palchak said, it doesn't offer reduced wholesale prices. Store owners like Pellegrene have to pay the same rate that is charged to patrons who purchase individual half gallons or cones in the Creamery's own retail store.
Palchak noted that store owners like Pellegrene, who fill regular orders at the Creamery, help to promote consumption of dairy products as a source of nutrients including calcium. So, “We're very happy for his business,” Palchak said.
If customers think the Creamery ice cream tastes extra rich, they're not mistaken. For standard ice cream, the butterfat or milkfat content ranges between 10 and 12 percent, Palchak explained, while the varieties produced at Penn State have a 14.1 percent butterfat content.
The Creamery ice cream line includes more than 150 varieties. Only a select few are offered year-round while other “flavors of the week” s are available occasionally in limited quantities for a limited time. A few new flavors are introduced each fall, Palchak noted.
“There's so many flavors, we haven't had them all” in the two and a half years Scoops has been open, Pellegrene noted. “People will leave their phone numbers, and we'll call them when their flavor is in.”
Pellegrene cites Death By Chocolate as a former specialty flavor that has become a standard offering at the Creamery and at Scoops because of its growing popularity. It consists of chocolate ice cream filled with fudge pieces and chocolate flakes and swirls.
In addition to tailoring the selection of ice cream varieties for his store, Pellegrene has come up with his own ways of serving them. Scoops customers can have their choice of one or more flavors of ice cream dipped into a pretzel cone as an alternative to a standard cone or waffle cone.
Pellegrene also offers a combination of vanilla ice cream and orange soda that has become a favorite with some of his regular customers including Dana Rizzo and her husband, Al, of New Alexandria.
“It was really good,” Dana Rizzo said of the unique treat. “The ice cream is just so creamy. It's just like eating a Dreamsicle.”
Rizzo, who works as a water quality educator at the Westmoreland County office of the Penn State's Extension Service, noted she'd sometimes bring home Creamery ice cream when she made periodic trips to Penn State's main campus.
But, she said, she and her husband indulge in the frozen treat more frequently now that they can find it just a few miles down the road, at Scoops.
“We go at least two or three times a month,” she said.
While ice cream is the main attraction at Scoops, Pellegrene, 59, said many of his adult customers, including those of his own generation, are equally attracted by the displays of memorabilia he's used to bring a period charm to his small shop.
In addition to vintage photos, there are posters advertising eateries and entertainment spots from yesteryear. Among Pellegrene's favorites are a multi-colored light fixture and a portion of the marquee preserved from the former Penn Theater movie palace on East Market Street.
Pellegrene makes his milkshakes the old-fashioned way, prepared in tall metal cups using a 1940s Hamilton Beach mixer that originally performed the same function at Heasley's drug store, once a mainstay in downtown Blairsville. Scoops also boasts a 1960s jukebox and a pop machine that dispenses soda in glass bottles.
In addition to a booth, patrons can choose a stool at a 1940s-era counter that was once part of the Clearfield Diner, closed in 2007.
When the weather is nice, wooden benches fashioned by local craftsman Sam Henigin allow for an al fresco ice cream indulgence on the sidewalk. Speakers recycled from a drive-in theater play music piped from the store.
Pellegrene said he and his wife “always had this thing about old-fashioned ice cream parlors” and were considering such a follow-up venture when his family sold its refuse and landfill business in 1995.
The timing was finally right in 2010, once their daughter, known as Kendy Jr., had begun biology studies at Washington and Jefferson College.
Gene Pellegrene said his goal for Scoops was to have the business at least break even. So far, he said, that hasn't been a problem.
“This business has been successful, but we work it ourselves. We don't employ anybody,” he noted.
Gene Pellegrene handles most of the operations at Scoops. On peak days, his wife comes in to help serve customers after she completes her day's work as business development coordinator at Blairsville's Clark Metal Products. Their daughter, who will earn her undergraduate degree in May and move on to a master's program at Chatham University, has helped during busier summer months.
The parlor normally is open from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday but is closed Sundays during colder months.
Pellegrene said he may reconsider opening earlier for lunchtime patrons, a schedule he tried previously but abandoned.
He pointed out that many a customer is eager to satisfy a sweet tooth: “I'll get here at 3:30 to open the store, and it's not uncommon for cars to be waiting outside.”
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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