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SWEET NEW LOOK PAYS OFF LOCAL BASKIN-ROBBINS SETS PACE IN REMODELING OF ICE CREAM SHOPS.

Byline: Eugene Tong Staff Writer

STEVENSON RANCH - The 31-or-so flavors are still front and center at the Baskin-Robbins store here. But the gray-speckled tables and bubble gum colors now accompany wood paneling, abstract art, a contemporary soda fountain and even a new logo.

The enduring ice cream chain - founded in Pasadena and Glendale in the 1940s - has embarked on a five-year, nationwide effort to remodel its 2,500 stores, officials said Thursday.

It's all part of a plan to update the brand to better compete in the increasingly competitive ice cream parlor business.

Gone are the plastic booths and gray linoleum floors. Instead, patrons lounge in blue chairs found in contemporary furniture boutiques, or at the curved, wood-grained soda counter. The logo is still in familiar blue-and-pink, but the trademark ``31'' is now hidden within the initials ``BR.''

``It's innovation and enhancement of what we have,'' said James Franks, director of franchising for Baskin-Robbins, which along with Dunkin' Donuts and Togo's sandwich shops are owned by beverage giant Allied Domecq PLC.

``The 31 is not going away. It's being made contemporary as it goes with the times. Change is always difficult, but again, we'll all be happy with it.''

The Stevenson Ranch store opened 10 years ago and is one of the top performing outlets in the nation. It was remodeled in August 2004 - the first in the state. Southern California is home to some 300 Baskin-Robbins stores.

Varuzh Tiritian, who owns this and two other Baskin-Robbins in Pasadena and Burbank, said business increased between 8 to 10 percent since remodeling.

``It was pretty exciting to see the change,'' he said. ``The brand was getting a little tired, so it was time to change.''

The company recently refurbished all its Las Vegas stores, and is preparing to roll out the remodeling plan nationwide Monday, Franks said. It also intends to add 600 stores by 2009.

Baskin-Robbins began in the mid-1940s when brothers-in-law Burton Baskins, who opened an ice cream shop in Pasadena, and Irvine Robbins, owner of a Glendale parlor, combined their businesses. The British food company J. Lyons and Co., which became Allied Domecq, purchased the brand in 1973.

Competition is intense in the ice cream parlor business, a field crowded with such boutique brands as Arizona-based Cold Stone Creamery, Ben & Jerry's and Maggie Moo's.

Franks believes the store remodelings, along with new products such as the frozen custard line, could help Baskin-Robbins stay ahead of the competition.

``Somebody will always be there to knock you off,'' he said. ``Innovation is what you need to stay on top of your game. ... You have to be in touch with the ice cream side. But it's still a business, too.''

Lynda Utterback, executive director of the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, cautioned against too much innovation.

``The whole thing about ice cream is that people have fond childhood memories about a brand of ice cream or an ice cream store,'' said Utterback of the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based trade group. ``They think about taking the mom or dad or grandparents' hand to the ice cream store.

``Doing something fresh is good. But I hope they leave enough so that people will still be able to relive that when they walk into the stores.''

Still, the new look already has some fans.

``It's very bright and inviting for kids to come into,'' said Kerry Vicente, 36, of Castaic, enjoying a scoop of mint chocolate chip at the remodeled Valencia Marketplace store with her 3-year-old daughter Makayla. ``I can see why they made the change.''

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com

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3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color -- ran in SAC edition only) Alanta Joselowski, 8, of Stevenson Ranch enjoys an ice cream treat as she soaks in the atmosphere at the remodeled Baskin-Robbins shop in town.

(2 -- 3 -- ran in SAC edition only) Above, Manager Garrett Steffen prepares a banana shake for customer Michael Perez at the remodeled Baskin-Robbins shop in Stevenson Ranch. It's all part of a plan to make the shops more contemporary as competition in the ice cream field heats up. The new image extends to an updated logo, below.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 4, 2005
Words:699
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