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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023
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The Taste Test

Hot off the heals of a new-customer coup, Don Whittemore, founder and namesake of Van Nuys-based Dandy Don’s Homemade Ice Cream, visited the Business Journal offices in Woodland Hills last week to share his entrepreneurial philosophy. “If you want to know how good an ice cream maker’s product is, taste his vanilla,” Wittemore said. What makes his business successful, said Whittemore, is simple: great ice cream and great service. “We’re really proud of the fact that executive chef, William Bloxsom-Carter has selected Dandy Don’s to be the ice cream purveyor to the Playboy Mansion,” he said. “Mr. Heffner just had a big Easter celebration, and I am humbled to say we were chosen to be the ice cream supplier for that event.” Whittemore’s company will also be the ice cream provider for the mansion’s Fourth of July festivities. Don Whittemore is accustomed to working with celebrities. After all, when he was a music industry executive, he promoted such acts as The Beatles, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, and Elvis. “In 1975 I was working for ready for this? Phil Spector,” Whittemore said. “I was his national promotion director, but Warner Brothers pulled the plug on Phil Spector and we were fired because that was the end of the funding for promotion.” But the music world and the world of everyone’s favorite frozen dessert ice cream were about to intersect and lay opportunity at Whittemore’s feet. “I was doing one last record promotion gig,” he said. “I was helping promote another Phil Spector single recorded by Nilsson and Cher. Nilsson was doing the openings of the new Haagen-Dazs stores, and I loved their ice cream, and it got me thinking.” At about the same time, Whittemore read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about starting a homemade ice cream business. “I thought, I like ice cream; this sounds like fun,” Whittemore said. “I’m not very original, but I’m very creative, and I don’t mind stealing ideas from the best. Because you know, there really are no new ideas.” Seizing an opportunity Serendipitously, one evening shortly after reading the magazine article, Whittemore took his family to have some ice cream at a place called The Creamery in Tarzana after taking in a movie. “The place wasn’t being run correctly,” he recalled. “There was a young lady gabbing on the phone who looked like she didn’t want to be there, and other things were just wrong.” But, Whittemore said, one thing was right. “They made their own ice cream.” Now he looks back with a degree of astonishment at his decision to buy the store with a loan he wasn’t sure he could even afford. “I had just been fired from my job; I had a family to feed and kids to send to school,” Whittemore said. “But I did it, and boy was I naive.” After a couple of course corrections, Dandy Don’s Homemade Ice Cream was well on its way to becoming a Southern California cult icon. However, Don Whittemore gave up the retail model and grew the business by focusing on high-end and high-quality middle market ice cream for restaurants and special events. “It’s all about the ingredients with ice cream,” he said. “As far as the product goes, that’s all that really matters the best possible ingredients. You can really, really tell the difference.” Whittemore said he pities consumers who believe they’re getting a great deal by buying five-gallon tubs of low-priced ice cream at warehouse and supply stores for little more than the price of a gallon of quality ice cream. “It’s air,” he said. ” Literally, whipped air.” County fairs are known as the ultimate competitive arena in the ice cream business. Dandy Don’s boasts 15 gold medal scores from county fairs in the past 13 years. That reputation and myriad flavors including bourbon vanilla, vanilla custard, coffee espresso, cappuccino crunch, banana, cinnamon, green tea, rum raisin, white chocolate not to mention the all-time standards of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry to name but a few, have helped land Dandy Don’s Homemade some very enviable contracts. “I use Dandy Don’s for our ice cream, just because it is the best,” said Maria Magdaleno, executive chef at Sherman Oaks’ Se & #324;or Fred restaurant. “It is really good quality, and they help me with special service when I run out or need to reorder at the last minute; they even call me if they think I’m getting low.” More often than not, Magdaleno said, such checkups end up avoiding disastrous possibility of an ice cream outage. Loyal customers At 50,000 gallons per year, Dandy Don’s is no threat to the likes of Dreyer’s or any of the mass-market brands of ice cream. But according to restaurateurs loyal to Don Whittemore’s brand, he has no competition. “He’s a one-of-a-kind,” said one customer. “He’s kind of a character, but that’s probably what makes his ice cream standards so high; and I don’t want him to change a thing.” Among the ranks of Dandy Don’s customer base are landmark eateries such as Crustacean in Santa Monica, the elite Jonathon Club downtown, local legend Brent’s Deli, here in the Valley, The Sunset Restaurant in Malibu, Valencia Country Club, and dozens of other tony and well-known locations throughout the region. But even with its enviable clientele, Dandy Don’s Homemade Ice Cream has had to innovate to survive the recession. “We’ve recently created our Ice Cream Social in a Box, which serves 25 people with hot fudge sundaes, complete with colorful spoons, cups, napkins, plastic table cloth and soda-jerk hats,” said Whittemore. The Ice Cream Social in a Box sells for $149 plus delivery and tax, and comes via a dry-ice-packed UPS package. The $1.1 million company employs nine full-time workers, plus another 12 part-time seasonal workers. Dandy Don’s official 2009 ice-cream season began a week ago, Monday, April 20, with the start of National Administrative Professionals Week. “That’s our first big week every year, and I love it!”

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