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California gets a taste of Akron

Native Ohioan brings Strickland's frozen custard store to West Coast

By Jim Carney, Beacon Journal staff writer

Trendy Southern California is taking a bite out of something that has been a touchstone of Akron for nearly 70 years.

Strickland's frozen custard.

The Akron custard icon's first out-of-state store -- Strickland's of Irvine, Calif. -- has opened in the city located about 40 miles south of Los Angeles and nearly 2,400 miles away from the first Strickland's store in Akron.

And as if you didn't already guess, the franchise owner is an Akron transplant.

Donna Nettles, a 1975 East High School graduate, and her husband, Randy, a California native, opened the West Coast Strickland's franchise on Valentine's Day.

Except for the February rains that are normal for Southern California, business has been great so far, said Nettles.

Donna Nettles moved from Akron to Irvine 20 years ago.

"I was driving and it was beautiful weather and I thought, 'This would be a great place for a Strickland's,' '' she said in a telephone interview.

Over the years, she often contacted Strickland's about starting a franchise.

And in the fall of 2002, while visiting her family in Akron -- she was born Donna Stillman -- she saw a newspaper article about Strickland's offering franchises.

During that visit, she and her husband filled out an application online, and the store, located across the street from the campus of the University of California at Irvine, opened this month.

Strickland's was founded in 1936 by Bill and Florence Strickland, and the original store on Triplett Boulevard in Akron is still open and run by third-generation family members.

A second family-owned store is located at 3985 Medina Road in Bath Township.

Franchise stores are located in Cuyahoga Falls at 2629 Bailey Road and in Streetsboro at 9507 State Route 14.

A new franchise store is under construction in Stow and is set to open in April. Another store in Medina County, at 2930 Medina Road at the southeast corner of the intersection of Route 18 and I-71, is set to open in May. A franchise store also has been proposed for Copley Road near Buchtel High School.

And there is interest in Strickland's franchises in other places in the United States, said Scott Margroff, the great-nephew of Bill Strickland.

Four to five people are looking for sites in the Naples, Fla., area, he said, and there is also interest in franchises in Colorado and the Las Vegas area.

And it is also possible that there could someday be Strickland's in the United Kingdom. Margroff said he has been talking to an investor interested in possibly developing stores there, Margroff said.

The reason Strickland's was able to franchise its unique frozen product, Margroff said, was that it re-engineered its vintage custard makers.

The process of taking apart the old machine, still in use at the Triplett Boulevard location, then exactly duplicating every single part to the machine, took about a year.

"They are catering to an upscale market out there,'' Margroff said. He calls it "The Strickland's elite.'' According to Strickland's Web site, www.stricklands.info, the estimated cost for a Strickland's franchise is from $138,000 to $189,000. That includes operating costs for three months.

Not included in that estimate are real estate costs, sales tax or a 6 percent of gross sales royalty fee.

The Web site says the size of a typical Strickland's store is 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, which could rent for from $9,600 to $18,000 per year, depending upon size, condition of property and location.

"I think it is a fabulous product,'' said Nettles, who quit her job at a law firm to start the custard franchise. Her husband also quit his job as a handyman when the store opened.

The first customer to the Irvine Strickland's store was Joe Adolph, 32, formerly of Mogadore and a St. Vincent-St. Mary High School graduate who moved to Irvine in 1998.

"Growing up minutes away from the original Strickland's by the Rubber Bowl, I must have eaten thousands of delicious ice cream cones -- mostly vanilla'' at Strickland's, Adolph said in an e-mail. Adolph said he heard that a Strickland's was coming last fall and has been e-mailing Nettles frequently to find out when the store was opening.

Adolph works across the street from the store at the university.

So the first day the store opened, Adolph was first in line. "I then sat down and enjoyed a pint of vanilla, black raspberry and butter pecan,'' he said.

"It brings back all the wonderful memories I had with my family at the original Strickland's.''

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com

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