By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Searcy, Arkansas, received an early Christmas present this week when a Chicago company announced it would resume making Yarnell's Ice Cream.
The legendary ice cream maker shut its doors in July after financial problems. The closure resulted in the loss of 200 jobs -- and of a treat beloved throughout the state.
Little Rock resident Mandy Shoptaw, who favored the company's Woo Pig Chewy (a brownie ice cream celebrating the University of Arkansas Razorbacks), was happy that Yarnell's would return.
"Yarnell's is such an Arkansas institution," Shoptaw told Reuters on Friday.
On Wednesday, Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. bought Yarnell's equipment, intellectual property and real estate at auction, said Buck Layne, president of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He told Reuters on Thursday that the company plans to resume operations at the plant, although a start-up date is unclear.
"It's something so very positive for the community," Layne said. "Many of the people who lost their jobs have not found new ones. Schulze and Burch will certainly be looking at that workforce when they start hiring."
Schulze and Burch already operate a plant in Searcy. In 2009, the company bought a former Whirlpool plant where it now makes toaster pastries and granola bars. It employs about 125 people, Lane said.
Yarnell's was deeply connected to Searcy, population 22,340, which is 45 miles north of Little Rock.
Ray Yarnell bought a dairy business in 1932 amid the Great Depression and turned it into a thriving ice cream business in Searcy. The company remained in the family until its closure. When the business abruptly shut over the summer, Arkansans posted emotional messages on the company's Facebook page.
"It is has certainly been a morale hit for the community, and an economic sting in an area that has been somewhat insulated from the current recession," Nicholas Horton, who owns a lawn care company in Searcy, told Reuters.
"This is the largest loss of jobs we have seen in many years, and it just so happened to hit one of Searcy's oldest and proudest business staples. It has been very demoralizing for the city as a whole, but we are a strong community and we will move forward."
Yarnell's, which sold products in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, often introduced seasonal favorites such as peppermint ice cream for Christmas.
It's unclear if such favorites will return to shelves, but the company acquired Yarnell's recipes at the auction, Layne said.
A representative for Schulze and Burch did not return calls.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)