From the pages of

Politeness by the scoop at Whitey's

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Jon Tunburg, left, and his brother, Jeff, show that their famous Whitey's malts pass the test: they're thick enough to hold upside down.

MOLINE -- When a former Quad-Cities couple came home for the holidays, their first stop was not their parents' home, but at a Whitey's Ice Cream store.

Customers line up by the dozens, even in the chill of a Midwestern winter, for a taste of what many call the Quad-Cities' best ice cream. They come back for the ice cream and the ``Whitey's touch,'' the feeling that today is still the good ol' days.

Walk into a Whitey's store any day of the week and smiling clerks will be waiting behind spotless counters, ready to whip fresh ingredients into an old-fashioned banana split. Boxes of candy and cookies line the walls, waiting to be chopped into a gourmet malt. Gleaming stainless-steel bins of toppings wait to grace sundaes.

Hungry customers of all ages, colors, shapes and sizes wait patiently while fresh-faced teenage girls in red-and-white pinafores mix malts and count out change. Phrases like ``May I help you?'' ``Yes, sir,'' and ``Have a nice day'' fly through the air. Whitey's employees are known for their politeness.

``We spend a lot of time training on how to make ice cream, but we spend even more time training on customer service,'' co-owner Jon Tunberg said. ``It's part of the whole package. You come into Whitey's and you will be treated well.''

The customer loyalty inspired by the creamy sweetness in signature red-and-white packages is second, perhaps, only to the devotion to community shown by Whitey's co-owners, brothers Jeff and Jon Tunberg of Moline.

``To those whom much has been given, much is expected,'' Jeff Tunberg said. ``We believe in community involvement as people, so we bring Whitey's along for the ride. It's only proper, mature and right to give back to the community that has helped make a living for you, a bit of what you can.''

From a one-store ice-cream dispensary on Moline's 16th Street to an 11-store operation that employs more than 300 people and ships ice cream all over the United States, Whitey's Ice Cream has grown into what many may not believe possible -- a corporation with a heart.

``We are old-fashioned, but we don't play on the idea of old-fashioned,'' Jon said. ``We just try to make the ice cream the best it can be.''

That idea of being the best has gone into every Whitey's cone and malt served over the years since 1933, when Chester ``Whitey'' Lindgren opened the first store at 16th Street and 23rd Avenue in Moline. A young Robert Tunberg came to work for Whitey in 1935 and stayed for nearly 20 years.

In 1953, Whitey asked Bob if he would like to buy the business. The answer was an immediate ``Yes,'' and so began the Tunberg family business.

Bob and his wife, Norma, made ice cream during the day and sold it in the store at night. Sons Jeff and Jon picked up trash in the parking lot before and after school. Along the way, they watched their parents work, absorbing their parents' work -- and life -- ethic.

``Our company's ideals are things our father instilled and we carry on,'' Jon Tunberg said.

Those ethics have stayed with the company throughout Whitey's expansion. In 1977, a second store was opened on 41st Street in Moline. In the '80s, the Tunbergs added five more stores in East Moline, Rock Island, Bettendorf, Davenport and at NorthPark Mall.

In the '90s, the familiar red-and-white signs sprouted at SouthPark Mall and another location in Davenport. The first Whitey's outside the Quad-Cities opened in 1993 in Muscatine, followed by an Iowa City storefront in 1995. Davenport got a third Whitey's in 1996.

The company has branched into other aspects of the ice-cream business, too. Whitey's began selling ice cream wholesale to supermarkets in 1988, and in 1991 entered the private-label business. They make ice cream for other companies, using that company's name and recipe.

Jeff and Jon have moved from the parking-lot trash bins to the upstairs administrative offices, but they still are a bit surprised at the company's success. They never expected they would sweep first place at the Illinois State Fair six years in a row, or grace the pages of Midwest Living magazine.

``Maybe that's why we're still in business,'' Jon said. ``Over the years, we had no grandiose plans. We just tried to stay focused. We keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and our faith that way, too.''

The Tunbergs' faith in God is so important to them, it is written in the company's mission statement, which reads, in part, ``We will operate our business in a manner consistent with our moral convictions and faith in Jesus Christ.''

``Like our father, I don't know how we could run the business without it,'' Jeff said of their faith. ``We rely on the Lord with decision-making and employee situations. We have prayed with employees who have been in trouble, and we've been able to pay for kids who work for us to go to Teens Encounter Christ.

``We give the Lord the credit for having the good reputation we have and the good business we enjoy,'' he said. ``It is a fun business to be in, and we are appreciative to the Lord as well as all our customers.''

-- By Sarah Larson (January 22, 1998)

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