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Frozen treat machine offers unique sweets to eat

When Country Cream, a roadside treat stand in Masonville, closed for the season last September, the owner trucked its rare ice cream machine nine miles north to this village and a leased storefront on Main Street.

The new location features more seating, the same frozen product, an expanded food menu and a different name: Treats-n-Eats.

"Everybody likes our ice cream and we have a very good following," said Lori Schneider, 50, the proprietor. "And it's always been my dream to own a little restaurant. I figured this was the opportunity to try it."

Barren trees and morning frost are conditions rarely associated with ice cream, but business has been brisk since last month's opening day.

"I've been doing fabulous on takeout orders and food," Schneider said as a burger sizzled on the broiler.

Sales of the shop's unique form of ice cream have exceeded the owner's expectations. Schneider predicted the product will continue to sell throughout the winter: "Lots of people have been saying they can't wait for a snowstorm to come, so they can come in and get hot fudge sundaes," she said.

The ice cream machine's move to Sidney returned it to the place where it first churned hard ice cream into soft.

In 1963, while he was on a call at a dairy farm in Masonville, a Sidney veterinarian mentioned to the farmers that his wife was unhappy in the ice cream business. The vet had purchased the special machine and related fixtures so his spouse could open a frozen-treats place called The Penguin.

After the animal doctor left, Richard and Eva Wagner talked about expanding into the consumer end of the dairy industry.

The Penguin changed hands the following year. In 1966, despite predictions of failure by many townsfolk, the Wagners moved the machine and everything else to a roadside building they constructed across from their farmstead.

It has remained in the family since then.

The Wagners were the grandparents of Lori Schneider.

Her parents, Ed and Sandy Frank, later took over the stand and changed the name to Country Cream.

They ran it until last year, though they still help today.

The fourth member of the workforce is Lori Schneider's daughter, Melissa.

Unchanged from 1963 is the process of preparing ice cream.

The flagship product is created by a machine that augers natural flavors and slabs of hard ice cream -- Perry's vanilla and chocolate serve as the bases -- into a soft-serve variant.

Though the machine carries no external markings indicating its maker or model, the family long ago was told that only four were built before the manufacturer went out of business.

The ice cream's metamorphosis is not a secret process.

When a person orders a small cherry cone, a square of hard vanilla and a few spoonfuls of cherries are sent down a hopper.

Then, as a handle is pulled, the machine rumbles and vibrates, and the cone is filled with frozen product oozing from a nozzle below the hopper.

"Everything is real," Schneider said. "No syrups, no preservatives. And that's why people love it."

Coffee ice cream is made with real coffee. Authentic bananas and strawberries go into the banana-strawberry blend.

There are 52 flavors. Peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter are the most popular varieties, the owner said, but some people prefer more unusual offerings, including almond bisque and pineapple walnut crisp.

No cleansing agents are used between runs, leaving traces of earlier flavors in the machine. They have become hallmarks of the store's special kind of frozen treats.

"At the bottom of your ice cream, you always get a little taste of the guy ahead of you," Schneider said. "That's a thing people like."

This ice cream does not resemble traditional soft serve.

It has a thicker consistency, like the hard ice cream from which it was made.

But it is easier to lick and spoon than the hard variety, and tends to remain a solid longer than soft serve.

Some customers, their homes now far from here, convince friends and relatives to use extreme measures to get them a little taste of home.

"We have people that send it out," Schneider said. "They put it on dry ice and send it."

Around next Memorial Day, a time when many roadside ice-cream stands will reopen, Country Cream will again operate from the western side of state Route 8 in Masonville.

And Treats-n-Eats will continue in business at Sidney.

Lori Schneider hinted that she has been able to locate a twin of her special ice-cream maker -- giving the family control of half of the four that were fabricated.

"We'll be there with the same ice cream, that's all I'm saying," she replied to a question, secretive but smiling.

The staffing decisions for Masonville and Sidney have already been made.

"My daughter says she'll go back to the country," Schneider said. "She doesn't like the hustle and bustle of downtown."

Source: Press & Sun-Bulletin

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