LITTLE ROCK Mayor David Morris remembers well the 4 a.m. phone call last year alerting him that Searcy-based Yarnell's Ice Cream was shutting down after 80 years.
It was June 30, Morris recalled, and the overnight workers at the downtown production facility had just learned the bankrupt company's financial problems had reached the breaking point.
"They told them they were ceasing production," Morris said. "What a doom-and-gloom picture was painted that day."
A little more than 9 months later, that doom-and-gloom has largely been replaced by optimism. After a bankruptcy proceeding that saw a Chicago-based company emerge with the Yarnell's assets, the ice cream line has hired back at least some of its workers and resumed production.
A Yarnell's spokesman declined to discuss details of the work or plans for the brand's reemergence in retail freezers, but said a major announcement is set for April 19. Morris said ice cream will be delivered to the governor that day during a news conference at the state Capitol.
After the sudden shutdown, a bankruptcy trustee oversaw an auction last November that ultimately culminated in Chicago-based snack manufacturer Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. buying everything from recipes to real estate for roughly $1.3 million.
Morris said city and Chamber of Commerce officials worked tirelessly to help complete the deal. Schulze & Burch already had a presence in Searcy and planned right away to bring Yarnell's back to market, a far more attractive option for the city than a buyer who wanted to shut the facility down and sell off its equipment.
It's hard to describe how much excitement the Yarnell's return has generated in Searcy, the mayor said.
"Oh my - it's just people are elated by the fact that production has started," he said, adding he thinks the brand will be back in stores soon. "People have been put back to work. We're going to see products back on the shelf."
That excitement was on full display earlier this week. An advertising company producing a commercial for Yarnell's wanted some of the town to turn out to simulate a parade, Morris said, so a call for extras was spread through the local paper, e-mail and word of mouth.
The turnout was enormous, Morris said, and the simulated shoot turned into a good-faith show of support for brand which Morris said the town considers "iconic."
"It's a Cinderella story come true," he said. "How much better an ending could we have had?"