LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Mike Beebe celebrated the return of Yarnell's Ice Cream Thursday morning and got to take the ceremonial first bite of the Arkansas treat.
The governor joined Yarnell's officials, who announced the return of ice creams, frozen yogurts and ice cream sandwiches. The Searcy-based ice cream producer laid off 200 workers and halted production in June after nearly 80 years of business, citing of declining sales and rising food and fuel prices. It had borrowed $7 million from state agencies in the years leading up to the closure.
"It's been so long, eight months since I've had it," Beebe said during Thursday's event at the state Capitol. "I think it's better."
Chicago snack food supplier Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. acquired Yarnell's earlier this year for $1.3 million. The company reopened the Yarnell's plant and is using original recipes and some former employees. Officials declined to say how many jobs the reopening created.
Yarnell's officials said products will be back on shelves next week in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi. A new rectangle-shaped carton will hold 56 ounces, up from the previous volume of 48.
"We just want to say thank you," said Searcy Mayor David Morris. "We want to say welcome back and God bless the production of Yarnell's ice cream."
Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co., which produces toaster pastries and granola bars, already had two plants in Chicago and one in Searcy. The location of the existing Arkansas facility made the Yarnell's acquisition more lucrative, officials said.
"I had no idea how passionate Arkansans would be about the return of their beloved brand," said Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. CEO Kevin Boyle, who was sporting a tie in Yarnell's colors, red and yellow. "I couldn't be prouder."
Coolers filled with the deserts encircled the second floor of the rotunda, a 1957 Yarnell's truck was parked on the Capitol's front steps and spoon-sized golden shovels were used to break into the ice cream.
Yarnell's was known for its Arkansas-themed ice cream flavors and names. They included University of Arkansas Razorback-themed offerings, such as "Woo Pig Chewy" and "Hog Wild for Cookie Dough." Some of the novelty flavors could return if their demand is high enough.
"Down the road, as retailers want to expand, we will be bringing back some of the items that are seasonal like the lemon ice box," Boyle said.
Beebe, who lived in Searcy after college, said he will probably stick with the classic flavors. The governor said he was an ice cream "traditionalist."
"I'm a chocoholic," Beebe said. "I love just about anything chocolate, and not the death by chocolate, I like that, but the regular chocolate."