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New ice cream eatery set to open in Willmar, Minn.

Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange This building on First Street South has been in the Harberts family for generations and on Friday it is set to open its doors as Willmar's newest ice cream store.1 / 2
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WILLMAR -- Steve Harberts was looking for a new direction in life when it became clear he needed to step back in time and step back into a Willmar storefront that has a long family history.

"It became a mission," said Harberts, who is opening an old-fashioned ice cream parlor at 924 First Street South.

Pending completion of final renovations, Harberts Ice Cream is scheduled to open Friday.

Featuring 20 flavors of hand-dipped Blue Bunny ice cream, homemade waffle cones, malts, sundaes, floats and Nathan's Famous hotdogs, the independently owned specialty shop has seating for 20.

Once new sod is laid, Harberts will put several tables outside for additional seating, but it's expected that most of the come-and-go business will be takeout.

He said the products will be moderately priced and provide the community with a new option for old-fashioned treats.

"I think it'll be a good place to meet people and relax and bring back the olden days," Harberts said. "It's the kind of thing that you miss."

The business location isn't new to Harberts.

His grandparents, Hanko and Ethel Harberts, operated Harberts Upholstery there for decades.

They built the original structure in 1949 for the business and added a second floor in 1959 that served as the family's living quarters.

His grandparents moved out of their upstairs home around 1985 and continued to use their business space while leasing part of the lower level to a number of different businesses including an attorney, dentist, real estate agent, insurance agent and a vacuum cleaner shop.

After his grandfather died in 2005, Harberts said he felt drawn to the building on Willmar's busy First Street with dreams of opening a business there someday, but he didn't know what kind of venture to pursue.

The answer came following a series of unfortunate events that included the death of his father, loss of his longtime job in Maplewood and the end of a relationship -- all within a couple months. Those numbing events were countered with a serendipitous stop at an ice cream shop in Anoka in October.

As soon as he walked in to buy a treat, he immediately knew he should open an ice cream parlor in his grandparents' store.

After he purchased the building in February and attended classes on how to create and execute a business plan, Harberts moved his belongings into the second-floor home. Harberts is now living where his grandparents lived and where his own father was raised.

With the help of Grefe Construction of Willmar, Harberts has renovated the business space on the floor below. He removed walls and painted the remaining ones a soft blue.

Stainless steel equipment has been installed and prominent exterior signage has been attracting people to the business. Hand-made signs taped to the glass doors promise that the shop will open soon.

Harberts said the community response to having an ice cream parlor, with flavors like maple nut, cookie dough and cotton candy, has been very positive with people eager for the doors to open.

"It's exciting," said Harberts.

There have been a few lessons to learn along the way, including admitting that he's still trying to perfect the technique of making homemade waffle cones.

He's hired four people so far to help him run the shop, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Harberts said the shop may be a seasonal business and close in the winter months. But he said if business stays strong, he will consider keeping it open all year.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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