Through a colleague at her hedge fund job, the former Glen Ridge resident discovered a brand of ice cream that weighed in at only 50 calories a serving and in December, she opened a D’lites franchise in West Caldwell. After 17 years in Glen Ridge, Garman moved to Caldwell in 2003 following the death of her husband.
But being an ice cream entrepreneur isn’t all chocolate sprinkles. First came the really lousy weather of this past winter, followed by the lousy weather of spring. Then came the local frozen yogurt phenomenon Cups in Clifton, which seemed to have a magnetic pull on every frozen-treat seeking teenager in Essex and Passaic Counties. And finally came Arnold Diaz.
On May 16, Diaz — the star of Fox 5’s “Shame on You” series — came out with a report alleging that D’lites’ nutrition labeling was misleading. Not helping matters any for D’lites was the rabid on-camera reaction of Magda Abt’s brother after Diaz reportedly jostled Abt while she was holding her baby. Abt, who was Garman’s colleague at the hedge fund she worked at in New York City, owns a D’lites store in Woodbury Village, NY, which was also featured in Diaz’s story.
Abt and Garman felt that Diaz had done a hatchet job, and they stood by their numbers. They say that Diaz received a supplemental lab report, supporting D’lites nutritional claims, which he ignored. So they sued Fox 5 for defamation and slander. They were serious enough to make sure the press release announcing the the lawsuit appeared on the Nasdaq/OMX Tower in Times Square.
“All I wanted was to stand behind the counter, give people tastes of different flavors, watch their eyes light up, engage in a conversation face-to-face,” Garman said in her West Caldwell store on Wednesday.
“I’m fighting Cups. I’m fighting Fox. I thought I was escaping the stress of Wall Street and here I am battling giant corporations.”
Cups was developed by the Briad Group of Livingston, the fifth-largest restaurant franchise operator in the U.S.
Garman has a Cups strategy as well. Although she’s not going to let customers pump their own ice cream — Cups puts customers at the yogurt pumps — she plans to open a toppings bar for customers who want to scoop their own. She plans to split the store into two service styles: old-school customers will pay by the serving size and number of toppings. New-school customers will add their own toppings and pay by weight.
D’lites offers six flavors, which change daily, and everybody gets free samples until they find a flavor they like. I settled on the chai flavor, which was pleasantly spicy and unusual. Tart yogurt, which I also liked, is similar to the product at Red Mango on Church Street. As the afternoon sun slanted through the west-facing windows, customers came and went, oblivious to controversy.
“As soon as people taste my ice cream, they become my customer,” Garman said. “There’s going to be a flavor you like. And it’s creamy.”
D’Lites is located in West Caldwell Plaza, 554 Passaic Avenue, and is open seven days a week. Daily flavors are posted on its Facebook page.