SHAMOKIN - Ken Bethge, owner and operator of Mauer's Dairy & Ice Cream Shoppe, 34 S. Market St., celebrated his 20th anniversary of ownership of the local business on March 1 and while his award-winning ice cream is an achievement in and of itself, the delight his customers find in his frozen treat is what really sweetens his success and puts a smile on his face.

Bethge purchased Mauer's Dairy, Tharptown, on March 1, 1993. Bethge had been in the milk and dairy delivery business since 1985, something he started doing after being laid off from Fleetwood.

His father, who delivered milk for Valley Farms, suggested Bethge pick up some delivery routes to the smaller "mom and pop" outlets that the bigger companies didn't want to service. Bethge started with a part-time route that took all of four hours per day, three days per week. From that small beginning as a self-employed delivery man, Bethge bought a delivery route in Sunbury and then purchased Shimko's Dairy in Strong.

In 1993, Bethge purchased the Mauer's Dairy business and facility in Tharptown. Bethge continued to sell and deliver milk under the Mauer's name, but he shut down the actual milk processing part of the dairy. He did, however, continue to operate the ice cream-making portion of the business. The next logical step was to open a small ice cream shop where he could sell his homemade treat.

"The plan was to open up an ice cream place that was only in the evening," Bethge explained

The Tea Shoppe on Market Street in Shamokin was one his stops on his delivery route. In 1996, Andy Pavelko, the owner, heard Bethge was looking for a place to set up shop and inquired if he would be interested in the Tea Shoppe.

"He made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Bethge said.

Since The Tea Shoppe was already a prime breakfast spot, he decided to continue that aspect of the business. That has worked out better than he had planned; after 20 years, Mauer's Dairy & Ice Cream Shoppe still serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In 1999, Bethge expanded the rear of the building to make his ice cream on-site with a large walk-in freezer. He closed the facility in Tharptown and moved his operation to the Market Street location.

Bethge estimates that he makes 1,000 gallons of ice cream a month between January and April. Mauer's is most famous for its bittersweet ice cream. Betghe sells 300 plus 50 ounce containers of bittersweet per month. Other popular flavors are vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter cup, among many others. That 1,000 gallons of ice cream is included in ice cream cakes, CMPs, VMPs, ice cream sandwiches and other various novelties. All of them handmade.

When the temperature begins to rise in the spring and summer, his production goes up to 2,500 to 3,500 gallons a month.

"We have won a lot of awards for our ice cream, including national awards in Las Vegas and San Diego" Bethge said.

Another busy time for Mauer's is the holiday season.

"Around the holidays when people come home visiting, they come in with coolers to take it back home with them," Bethge said. "We pack it in dry ice and it will last for 12 hours."

Folks from all over come in for a taste of Mauer's ice cream. "People will travel for good ice cream," he said, noting that he just had a few people in the shoppe from Mifflinburg and Selinsgrove.

Bethge gets a lot of help from his four children. Wade, 24, his oldest son, is the mechanically inclined one, so he is Bethge's maintenance man. He has been helping out his father since he was 5 years old.

His two daughters Chelsea, 22, and Macy, 19, have been working in the restaurant since they were seven years old. Both are now in college but continue to work there when they are home on break. His youngest son, Colton, 17, is learning the ice cream trade and Bethge has him making some of the simpler flavors. Colton recently got his driver's license and will start delivering for Bethge in the summer.

"The highlight is the customers," Bethge said, in reflecting on his 20 years of making ice cream. "When I come out here on a bad day and hearing people say how much they like our ice cream makes me smile."

Bethge has no big plans in the works for Mauer's Ice Cream Shoppe in the future other than to continue making the delicious local favorites that he has become known for not only in Shamokin, but across the country.

Mauer's Dairy & Ice Cream Shoppe is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, contact Bethge at 644-1316.