Baskin-Robbins store owner Shaheen Haque, left, with employee Michael Star. Haque says working with teenagers is part of what makes her job worthwhile.

The décor of the Baskin-Robbins store in Sandy Springs looks like a busted piñata.

Children spend their birthdays at the two-story shop located at CityWalk. They make candle wishes in a room sprinkled with shades of pink and blue. Frozen cakes decorated with a mother’s touch and crayon-box colors of ice cream wait like temptation inside glass cases.

The aroma of cooked waffles greets each customer coming through the door.

Store owner Shaheen Haque said she didn’t expect her life’s work would be this sweet. She’s spent 28 years serving up scoops of famous ice cream flavors and loves her job.

“You meet people. You manage employees. You have little kids coming to you as customers. You have cakes,” Haque said. “It’s a very vibrant and happy atmosphere, compared to sitting in a corporate office with a desk and chair.”

Haque can win friends with a few words and melt hearts with her matronly smile. She’s not shy about promoting her company’s brand. Her sales pitch flows as easily as caramel dripping off a ladle.

Haque fell in love with Baskin-Robbins ice cream in 1985, when she took her first bite of the chain’s Pistachio Almond ice cream. She said that first bite “sold me on the franchise.”

Haque wasn’t thinking about the ice cream business back then. She was a graduate student at Emory University, finishing her master’s degree in public health. She saw a future of sitting behind a desk and taking orders. She decided it just wasn’t for her. “My personality wasn’t suited for this type of job,” she said. “I started thinking.”

She bought out the owner of the Baskin-Robbins store on Roswell Road and hasn’t looked back, though there were some rocky roads along the way.

Haque moved the location to CityWalk in 2006, hoping she would be a part of Sandy Springs’ downtown renaissance. While the downtown plans haven’t moved as quickly as Haque expected, she said she’s found new opportunities at her much larger CityWalk address.

The second story became a party room and it’s something Haque credits with keeping her ice cream shop afloat during the economic meltdown.

When the economy crumbled in 2008 and 2009, she stretched her company’s dollar by working more hours at the store. Her uniform shows faint tatters at the shoulders and 31 flavors (and then some) of ice cream stain the brim of her visor.

“You have to know how to manage your numbers,” Haque said. “That’s the key factor to your survival. You have to control product waste. You have to control payroll cost.”

The store is never far from Haque’s thoughts. When she visited Turkey for one week in November, she had a video conference with her employees every day.

Haque said the teenagers she employs in the store are part of what makes the job worthwhile. In 28 years, she’s seen many grow up, become successful and return to her shop with their own children in tow. She thinks she can take some credit for their success. Two of Haque’s children are doctors and they worked in the store when they were teenagers.

“They have learned some of their management skills from Baskin-Robbins,” Haque said.

The dessert fads have also tried to take a bite of her ice cream shop’s profits. Cupcakes, cakes and pies are all contenders, but frozen yogurt currently reigns as the dessert fad king.

Frozen yogurt shops offer customers a myriad of toppings, but Haque doesn’t see the fad toppling ice cream’s enduring appeal. Haque conducts market research by visiting nearby shops.

She said that full-fat ice cream is healthier than nonfat yogurt, particularly when customers eat their yogurt with a pile of sugary toppings.

That master’s degree in public health came in handy, she said.

“I think it will take time for people to catch up and realize that having a serving of yogurt with all that toppings heaped up on it is worse,” Haque said.

And when they do, Haque will be waiting for them behind the counter at Baskin-Robbins.

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com