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A taste of Amish comes to the beach

Published April 11, 2007

[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
Matthew Bauer, left, of Raleigh, N.C., wanders the Amish Creamery Co. in Madeira Beach while his sister, Irene, eats her rocky road ice cream cone. They were in Madeira Beach visiting their grandparents.

[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
Clint Herlein, 60, left, and Rich Brooks, 50, joined forces to open the Amish Creamery Co. in downtown Madeira Beach last month.

Unlike typical beach shops' offerings of bikinis and beach balls, a new downtown business features all things Amish.

The Amish Creamery Co. at 200 150th Ave. is stocked with elderberry jam, biscuit mix and rolled butter, along with home-style ice cream from the Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota. The owners say everything in the store is Amish, with the exception of some soft drinks and crackers.

The ice cream shop and deli opened last month and has already seen heavy traffic. Renovations took longer than expected, but the big Amish face on the sign had passers-by intrigued.

"People are coming in and saying, 'We're glad to see you open,' " said Clint Herlein, one of the owners. "They say now they don't have to go to Sarasota" and its Pinecraft community of Amish.

Herlein and partner Rich Brooks set out to open in November but meeting legal codes and rehabbing a 55-year-old building proved difficult. The previous tenant was a bikini shop, but the building was originally a gas station, so it required $80,000 to convert it into a food business.

Many customers come in for ice cream, Herlein said, and are unaware of the Troyer brand meats and cheeses, Amish wedding preserves, candy, dry goods and other Amish products offered at the shop. Once they're inside the store, they stay and browse.

The 160 customers who came to the 1,000-square-foot store on its third day in business were from Iowa - like Herlein - Indiana and Michigan, said Brooks, who hails from Pittsburgh.

Both men have worked in corporate America but wanted to return to simple ideals. Brooks was a bond trader, and Herlein worked in sales and marketing with the likes of IBM and Textron. They both wanted to control their destinies and be in touch with what they perceived as quality products.

"After dealing with Wall Street traders, coming in here and doing this is fun," Brooks said.

They say they're also planning to tap into a growing demand for authentic products that customers can feel good about. Though neither of them is Amish, they said they identified with the austere religiosity and the adherence to purity.

"Being faith-based is important to us," said Brooks, who met Herlein seven years ago when both volunteered through Northeast Presbyterian Church.

Amish goods have always been popular for visitors to their rural enclaves throughout the Northeast and Midwest, but the appeal is spreading. Even in Manhattan, Amish markets and high-end restaurants serve a dish called Amish chicken, said Andrew F. Smith, the editor in chief of the Oxford Companion for American Food and Drink.

"There's this feeling that you trust the Amish, so they're not going to cheat you," Smith said. "This is authentic. This is American. It's most certainly a food fashion in New York City."

Many green markets, including shops in Largo and Dunedin, carry Amish goods as well as organic and health foods.

Amish products share the same perception of quality that has raised the profile of kosher and halal products, said Christine Bruhn, a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California Davis. She said sometimes such labels are more marketing than fact. "There is a tendency to look for additional factors to differentiate, ways to make a product special," Bruhn said. "What will ultimately lead to success is the quality of the product."

Brooks and Herlein said they're not worried because they love their products and all their customers so far have raved over everything from the trash can ice cream to the dandelion jelly to kluski noodles.

"I'm enthusiastic because of these people," said Herlein, who used to work as a soda jerk in his native Des Moines. "People come in and say, 'Where can I buy a franchise?' "

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or or by participating in

If you go

Amish Creamery Co.

Where: 200 150th Ave., Madeira Beach. 397-8222

Hours: Open every day, 10 a.m-10 p.m.


[Last modified April 11, 2007, 12:17:51]

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