Tuesday, June 04, 2002

'Oprah' fans scoop up Graeter's

By Chuck Martin cmartin@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        So you own an ice cream company. What's the best thing that could possibly happen to you as the scoop-and-dip summer season begins? How about an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey on her television show that's watched by millions of adoring fans?

Lou Graeter, front, checks an order as Barry Hanks, left, packs another, and Bill Lang, rear left, and John Prows, rear right, box and label outgoing ice cream orders at Graeter's Ice Cream in Mount Auburn.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        That happened to Cincinnati's Graeter's ice cream company Thursday when the talk show host nearly drooled over the cold sweet stuff on the Oprah Winfrey show. And Ms. Winfrey didn't just say she “liked” Graeter's or that it was her “favorite” ice cream.

        “This is the best ice cream I've ever tasted,” she told viewers. Then, Ms. Winfrey, who reportedly has a special affection for Graeter's butter pecan, promptly told everyone how they could order Graeter's products.

        It was an ice cream company's dream.

        “I don't think we could have bought a better advertisement,” says executive vice president Rich Graeter, who still hasn't seen that momentous Oprah show..

        After the show ended, the phones started ringing at Graeter's production plant in Mount Auburn and at the dozen retail stores in Greater Cincinnati. The calls were from people around the country who couldn't wait to order the ice cream Oprah loves so much.

        By Friday morning, Graeter's had received 450 ice cream orders via its Web site (www.graeters.com) and toll-free telephone service (800-721-3323). By Monday morning, it had received more than 700 orders. During the same period, the company might have received 75 orders, Mr. Graeter says.

        This despite the fact that, inexplicably, directory assistance didn't have Graeter's toll-free number listed, and that Oprah's Web site gave an incorrect Web address for Graeter's.

        “This is the kind of mail-order business we usually get during the holidays,” Mr. Graeter says.

        Mr. Graeter and his family knew something might happen on Oprah last Thursday — they just didn't know what. Supposedly, Ms. Winfrey first tasted Graeter's ice cream last year, when a friend gave her a gift pack for Christmas. Early this year, her producers called to ask for a sample.

        The company heard nothing until the week before last, when a producer called again to say they were planning a special show on summer food. They wanted to serve Graeter's vanilla to the 300 studio audience members.

        Things were hectic because Mr. Graeter's wife, Nancy, was delivering a baby girl. But early last week, Mr. Graeter found time to ship 10 gallons of vanilla and one pint each of the company's 24 flavors to Oprah's studios in Chicago. He meant to watch the show that day, but someone called to interrupt. The next thing he knew, the phones were ringing off the hook.

        So far, the company, which began as a malted milk stand in 1870 on Court Street, is having no problem keeping up with the rush of orders. Two extra employees are helping Mr. Graeter's father, Dick, and uncle, Lou, pack the pints of ice cream in Styrofoam boxes with dry ice.

        Rich Graeter predicts the high volume of orders will continue for a few days before tapering off next week.

        “True connoisseurs of ice cream already knew about us,” Mr. Graeter says. “What Oprah did was tell the average guy out there about us.”

        After everything settles, Mr. Graeter plans to call Ms. Winfrey to thank her.

        “And we'll have to send her something,” he says.

        We're guessing it will be butter pecan.

        John Kiesewetter contributed.


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