DOING CUSTARD THE OREGON WAY FROZEN TREAT INSPIRES PORTLAND'S NEW MICRO-CREAMERY

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PORTLAND, Ore.-Capitalizing on the popularity of specialty food stores like coffee bars and microbreweries, former electrical engineer Steve Keeler is planning to open a downtown micro-creamery in mid-August.

In his late 40s, Mr. Keeler is an early retiree from General Electric Co. in Wisconsin. After returning to his home state of Oregon, he decided to build a retail business based on his love of a dessert he rediscovered one winter night in the Badger State's below-zero weather-frozen custard.

"When I came back from Wisconsin, I realized I could make an all-Oregon product," he said.

The ingredients-cream, eggs, mint flavors, sundae toppings made from "the best berries on the planet" and even the beet sugar-all are from Oregon. The state's love-of-nature mystique also lends itself to the venture, he said.

"The store is going to strike the customer directly on the head with that," Mr. Keeler said.

The frozen custard will be made in a machine manufactured in Wisconsin to his specifications using a technology developed in the 1920s. The recipe, which Mr. Keeler discovered in "the bible of frozen desserts," W.S. Arbuckle's "Ice Cream," comes from the same period.

Mr. Keeler has been creating and running small teaser ads in local newspapers, saying "SDK's-no compromises. Public tasting begins this summer."

He also plans to run ads in the regional American Legion newsletter, a private newsletter aimed at ballroom dancers and another for nearby high-rise office building tenants. The audience is intended to be those 40-to-60 years old.

Later, Mr. Keeler may expand to standard print and radio advertising.

But he would rather the younger generation hear of his shop by word of mouth.

The first product to be offered at "public tasting sessions" will be '94 Cascade Cream, named for the mountain range that runs through the Pacific Northwest.

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