Rancier ice cream shop anticipates busy summer

Herald/STEVE TRAYNOR - Owner Manuel Mendez offers ice cream and slushes at his new store, Coco’s, in Killeen.

By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Another Earth Day has come and gone, but the idea is to make it an anniversary and a new beginning, like Easter, and a growing number of people and institutions and businesses are doing that.

People suspect that some businesses try to put token efforts and lip service in the best light, but serious efforts are more and more prevalent.

Transportation and construction draw the most attention, but every business has some practices that affect the environment in constant ways. Where businesses are concerned, the most important key is how environmental efforts will affect the bottom line.

"I really think that most business owners presented with a 'green' practice whose cost is equal to a less environmentally friendly one, will pick the one that will help the environment," said Charlie Buckley, who bought Zip Cleaners from Charles and Marjorie Reinhardt in late 2005. "Their first concern has to be taking care of the business, staying competitive and paying their employees. But there are a lot of practices and pieces of equipment that will pay for themselves in the long run in energy savings and other ways."

The Reinhardts signed on early with the city of Killeen's 12-year-old recycling office to dispose of paper and cardboard, but the business also uses a lot of resources and produces chemicals that could be released into the atmosphere and water supply. Buckley said the Reinhardts stopped using a type of chemical referred to as "perc" that has been banned in many states, and he has followed suit. And, in December 2005, he bought a type of dryer that recycles solvent, which was formerly released into the air as gas or particulates and had to be frequently replaced. The machine distills the solvent and recovers 90 to 95 percent.

"The unit is expensive, but will pay for itself over time," he said.

He also encourages customers to return garment hangers. "We have to find time to untangle them, but we save money on buying more and keep them out of the landfill," he said.

He also recently bought a more energy-efficient water heater and is considering methods of recapturing wastewater. "And I'm always looking for ways to save natural gas. We use an enormous amount of it."

He said he uses compact fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs as they burn out both at work and at home. "It's amazing how much the price of those has come down as they've become more popular," he said. "It's good that we try constantly to raise people's awareness about these issues so that we'll keep finding ways."

Killeen Mall also uses the bulbs for the carts in the middle of its aisles, said marketing director Mardi Redlin. The mall recently joined a promotion by its parent, Jones Lang LaSalle, to provide reusable "Shop Green Bags" to customers using Discover gift cards. The program ends May 31 if supplies last that long.

Redlin said the mall recycles all cardboard for itself and its stores, amounting to about 200 tons annually and cutting its garbage output in half, and the mall installed a more energy-efficient air conditioning system about five years ago. "We are actively looking for ways to be 'green' in all that we do," she said.

Among other efforts, many in the office print on both sides of paper. "We e-mail most documents and use other electronic storage methods to decrease the amount of paper, ink and toner," she said.

"As we replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, we put in Energy Star units," she said. "We use electronic ballasts to save electricity. We use as much xeriscaping as we can to cut down on water use for landscaping, and we have automatic faucets in restrooms. We have a water dispenser in the office to eliminate plastic bottles."

Killeen city recycling manager Peter DeLillo said he and his staff collect paper and cardboard from about 35 local businesses. Some of them bring the materials to the recycling center, and the center makes a circuit for the rest with its one pickup truck and one trailer. DeLillo is trying to build the practice slowly, so his resources don't get swamped, but he estimates he only gets 5 percent of potential business waste.

The department offers curbside pickup of household recyclables, and its yard and offices at 111 E. Avenue F are open for people to bring recyclables themselves on weekdays. The number for information is (254) 554-7572, or the center can be reached through the city's main number at (254) 501-7600.

All H-E-B stores, including the local ones, recycle their cardboard, and the company designs stores to make full use of natural light and looks for other ways to increase energy efficiency. The company is a leader in promoting ethanol sales, with one pump installed at the service station at the Killeen store on Trimmier Road. The local stores joined all others in the company in giving away canvas shopping bags to anyone bringing in five plastic bags to recycle on Earth Day and still has the canvas bags for sale.

Killeen Wal-Mart general manager Bob Sykes said, "We push eco-friendly products at every opportunity, and we find our customers receive it very, very positively." He said sales of environmentally friendly detergents are up 22 percent locally this year, and sales of eco-friendly fuel treatments and cleaning supplies are up dramatically. On Earth Day, the store gave away 1,000 reusable shopping bags, and associates went to the lakes to plant 100 trees to replace some of the ones drowned in last year's flooding. "I joined them and really got a good feeling from that," he said.

The store ordered a three-week supply of recyclable pet beds and sold out of them in two days at $39 each.

Wal-Mart's national headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., tracks its stores' performance state-by-state in various categories of eco-friendly sales with a "Sustainable Live Better Index." Texas was above average in the "adoption rate" for compact fluorescent light bulbs with 20.6 percent, 2.24 percent for organic milk, and concentrated/reduced-packing laundry detergent with 95.5 percent. The index also tracks organic baby food and formula and extended life paper products and is adding sustainable coffee and cleaning products following the introduction of Sam's Choice coffee and Clorox Green Works. Company officials said Texas ranked eighth overall in the index.

The company has a booklet that promotes a number of eco-friendly products as alternatives to conventional ones. But it notes candidly, "Earth-friendly products won't save the Earth if they don't save people money."

That's a little more blunt and stark than Buckley's belief in virtue breaking a tie, but it's a challenge to consumers to run the numbers and to producers to create numbers to run.

Contact Don Bolding at dbolding@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7557.By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

After four years of success in Waco, with a Waco Chamber of Commerce Business of the Month plaque hanging on the wall, Manuel Mendez felt ready to expand his ice cream parlor business toward the ballooning economic scene to the southwest.

Six years ago, he sold from roving ice cream trucks in Waco and Killeen. "I was very familiar with the town already, and it was natural to expand here," he said. So he was driving around Killeen in November last year looking for a place that begged for a new Coco's ice cream shop, and found a Dairy Queen that had gone out of business at 1406 E. Rancier Ave. a few months before. He secured it in December.

It needed little infrastructural work compared with the converted gas station that holds the first Coco's in Waco, so he bought it and spent the next few months splashing much brighter colors on the walls and planting about 10 palm trees around the perimeter. He was ready to open in early March.

He commutes to Killeen to manage the store nearly every day while the business gets on its feet with the assistance of two employees, leaving niece Maribel Mendez and son Ulysses Mendez in charge in Waco. Usually one day a week, Maribel travels to Killeen so he can stay home. Business has been fairly light because of uncommonly cool and rainy spring weather, but he still didn't have much time to talk on an early afternoon. Both sit-down and drive-through customers commanded a lot of attention.

"We get a lot more business after school," he said, "and we're expecting to do really well this summer. A problem is that since this used to be a Dairy Queen, customers think we serve a lot more food than we do. We have a couple of items of hot food, but we have everything in the ice cream line – shaved ices, banana splits, a full menu." The ice cream is Blue Bell, but the store makes original flavors for ices and makes its own waffle cones and bowls.

He said the Coco's in Waco has really caught the community's attention, with frequent references in the media, and there's that Chamber of Commerce prize to point to.

With the new store nestled in a homey, schoolkid-rich area where pedestrian traffic is easy, he said he plans to grow the business a couple of years and then consider opening a third store.

"I don't know where yet," he said, "but I'm confident being here. We just have to give it a little time."

Contact Don Bolding at dbolding@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7557.

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