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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Elaine Chapin serves customer Paul Stiebeling at Atz Ice Cream Shoppe, 211 E. Tillman Rd.
Business Spotlight

Atz Ice Cream Shoppe adapts to dealing with dairy vendors

Atz Ice Cream Shoppe offers more than 40 flavors of ice cream at two locations.

Atz Ice Cream Shoppe and restaurant

Address: 211 E. Tillman Road and 3235 N. Anthony Blvd.

At a glance: An ice cream and restaurant business

Employees: 40

Annual revenue: Declined to reveal

When was the company founded: 1956

Biggest accomplishment in the past 12 months: Continuing acclimating to doing business with various dairy vendors after producing its own product. The company closed its manufacturing facility in 2011 because renovating the 90-year-old Kendallville building cost too much. Since then, the company has stopped stocking its brand on store shelves, such as at Walmart, Kroger and Meijer. The company has had to be diligent in finding comparable flavors and products from other dairy producers. “Vanilla is not always vanilla,” said owner Jeff Atz. “It’s been a little bit hard finding vendors. We work on getting customer feedback.”

What was your biggest mistake in operating this business: Not reacting to rising wholesale costs quickly enough. “If those costs are going up and you don’t raise your prices, then your bottom line gets smaller,” Atz said. “We just try to watch it and try to react to changes. They say that inflation hasn’t been a factor in the last several years, but meat and dairy prices are excluded from that. Those prices have been volatile for us in recent years.”

What are the key challenges facing your business or industry: “Local independent restaurants don’t have the marketing punch that the chains do,” Atz said, noting that he has a modest advertising budget compared with some national peers. “We can’t pivot as fast when the market changes as the larger chains are able to do.” Atz products are available only at the company’s two locations. Fort Wayne is not exactly at the forefront of trends, so Atz has to keep an eye on what’s coming, he said. Starbucks existed for years before going national, Atz said. “People probably thought, who ever heard of selling coffee at a drive-thru, but look at them now.”

What is your strategy for staying ahead of your competition: Atz believes its history of locally made ice cream treats trumps many other national competitors. The company has more than 40 flavors and offers ice cream, yogurt and sherbet. Atz said his business has a niche for people looking for hometown taste.

What resources have you found most helpful in running a business: Trade shows, industry magazines and journals. Vendors also provide insights into trends and recipes that are becoming popular.

What are your growth projections for the next five years: A 5 percent increase a year is a reasonable expectation.

What is one thing about your business that people might not be aware of: The company offers catering, featuring numerous ice cream novelties.

If you weren’t running this business, what would you be doing: Would be a missionary.

Source: Owner Jeff Atz Compiled by Paul Wyche of The Journal Gazette Business Spotlight profiles small businesses that are at least three years old and have 100 or fewer employees. To recommend a business, e-mail the name of the company and the name and phone number of a contact person to or fax to 461-8893.