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A sign of the times Featured

6:28am EDT October 30, 2001
Despite all the business advice about the need to evolve if you want to succeed, Patti and Ernie Schott decided that some things should stay the same -- and that philosophy keeps their customers coming back.

Three years ago, the couple shelled out $295,000 to purchase a business at 1401 Fulton Road N.W. That address is familiar to most Canton residents because it's a Stark County landmark: Taggart's Ice Cream. The Schotts since have invested $30,000 in restorations, for nostalgia's sake.

The brick and stucco building, located in a residential area a mile from the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, was constructed in 1900 by Dr. Plat Taggart, a dentist, on a plot of farmland belonging to his friend, Henry Timken. Back then, Canton had no zoning laws, but Taggart designed the structure to resemble a duplex, to blend with homes in the area.

He initially leased the space to a radio and bicycle repair shop on one side and Stewart's Ice Cream on the other. In 1926, his son, Joe Taggart, took over both sides of the duplex and opened his own business, offering homemade soups, sandwiches and ice cream treats.

Since Taggart sold out in 1958, ownership has changed hands several times (the Schotts are the fourth owners). The business continued to operate under the name Taggart's Ice Cream, but some owners altered the look of his legacy and others let it slide -- causing anxiety and ire among its faithful customers.

Hearing this, Taggart, now living in Orlando, Fla., vowed never to set foot inside the store again.

Then, the Schotts stepped forward and made it their mission to maintain the landmark restaurant and ice cream parlor as a sign of the times ... gone by. And who better to do that than a couple that had lived in the neighborhood for three decades?

''We'd been patrons here for years, and when we took it over, the community sat up and took notice because we live two blocks from the store. I think they were happy to see somebody local take it over who would care for it and bring it back,'' says Patti Schott, formerly a nurse for 32 years.

''We wanted to make Taggart's what it once was, and when the neighborhood saw we were trying to make it a showplace, they rallied around us,'' says Ernie Schott.

The couple started by cleaning up debris around the premises, repainting the exterior and interior, installing new brick sidewalks, refinishing the original white pine booths and reupholstering the cushioned seats.

When word about the revitalization reached Taggart, he contacted the couple to congratulate them. He's also shared his memories to assist the owners in their quest to recapture the past.

''We've been able to duplicate some of the detail by studying photographs of the original store and seeking guidance from Joe Taggart,'' says Ernie Schott, a retired manufacturing plant manager.

For example, the Schotts installed storefront awnings much like the originals, and planted flowering pear trees to resemble the great elms that once graced the storefront.

''You can't plant elms anymore because the roots eventually tear up the street,'' he explains.

The owners also focus on cleanliness -- from dust-free windows to daily trash pickups -- and their hiring policies delight the community.

''We employ only high school and college students, preferably kids from the neighborhood who are involved in athletics,'' says Patti Schott.

The payroll carries four full-time employees and 41 part-time, from dishwashers to servers, most of whom work only a couple of days a week because they are encouraged to stay involved in sports and excel in school.

''We've found that students in sports are better employees because they're team players. We also look for good grades, good attendance and good recommendations from their teachers,'' Ernie Schott says.

Two of the owners' daughters are on the part-time schedule, and son-in-law Doug Mullaly co-manages with Greg Cook, a 14-year Taggart's veteran. The owners work there two or three days a week, but check in daily.

They also employ commendable marketing methods.

''We believe in giving back to our community so we donate about $300 a month to schools, churches and different organizations,'' Ernie Schott says. ''And instead of advertising in newspapers all the time, we support schools by advertising in their athletic event programs, as well as Malone College.''

The schools, in turn, look to the Schotts for their midday bread and butter.

''We have three schools within a half-mile, and teachers can call to tell us what time they'll be here and what they want to eat. We'll hold them a booth and have their food on the table when they get here, because they only have a 45-minute break,'' he says, adding that the restaurant also draws from downtown.

''We get lots of attorneys, judges, police and fire departments. If they come in for lunch and have on a uniform, we treat them like an employee by letting them pay only half price, because we feel they're a great asset to the community.

The owners say their restaurant's popularity is due in large part to the menu.

''When we bought the store, we also bought Joe Taggart's original recipes of homemade ice cream treats, soups and sandwiches, and we still make them all today, right on our premises,'' Ernie Schott says. ''The Olive Nut Sandwich still seems to be everyone's favorite.''

Today, every booth is filled, all the time (seating capacity is 72 and the store stays open year-round, seven days a week, excluding major holidays). Annual revenue tops $500,000.

''We believe that if we keep the place clean and serve the right quantities and qualities of food, people will keep coming back,'' Ernie Schott says.

Even Joe Taggart, now 94, promises that one day soon he'll sit in one of those booths to see for himself how close the new owners come to bringing back the past. How to reach: Taggart's Ice Cream, (330) 452-6844