By JESSICA TOLEDANO

Staff Reporter

The ice cream business is hot these days just take a peek inside Fosselman's Ice Cream, the 79-year-old shop and factory in Alhambra where more than 500 customers flock each weekend for the creamy hand-made confection.

"It's been an incredible summer for ice cream," said John Fosselman, who co-owns the business with his brother Chris. "It is pretty darn close to the best summer we have ever had."

That's an accomplishment, considering that when John and Chris took over in 1990, Fosselman's was on death's door the result of focusing too much on the retail side and not enough on the lucrative wholesale trade.

"It was, we buy out the business or we are out of business," recalled John.

The two brothers mapped out a new strategy maintaining just the one Alhambra shop and knocking on restaurant and retail doors.

Today, the company makes the bulk of its money from delivering hundreds of gallons of ice cream each week to its more than 75 wholesale clients, which include the Daily Grill, Bristol Farms, Occidental College and Country Star Restaurant.

Landing and retaining wholesale clients is no easy feat in the fiercely competitive ice cream world, where tiny Fosselman's competes against such premium behemoths as Haagen Dazs, Dryers and Ben & Jerry's.

"Their biggest problem is money," Michael Alvarez, warehouse manager for dairy products distributor Adohr Farms, said of Fosselman's. "They don't have the money to get their name out. They can't really compete with a Ben & Jerry's or a Haagen Dazs because they don't have any brand name. Fosselman's has to get their name out by word of mouth."

Besides ad campaigns, companies like Haagen Dazs pay big bucks to restaurants that put their names on the menu and carry their products exclusively. But being small and local also has its advantages.

Hem Shah, spokesman for Alta Dena Certified Dairy in City of Industry, said many smaller wholesale customers prefer to deal with local suppliers. And some customers may have longstanding loyalties to a local supplier.

"The niche (Fosselman's) has is being a family-owned business and the quality of their product," said Alvarez. "They make it by hand. There is a difference in the taste."

One part of Fosselman's strategy has been to offer special flavors tailored to the tastes of its wholesale customers.

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