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Ice Cream Becomes Hot Commodity in Heat Wave : Moorpark: Kids mob Marcello Padilla’s truck, which brings a delicious way to cool off. But the weather brings out the sweet tooth in adults, too.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the late-afternoon heat, Marcello Padilla’s ice cream truck turned the corner onto Dorothy Avenue in Moorpark. Screen doors slapped open on nearly every house as small children emerged.

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“Marcello, Marcello!” they shrieked, running after him, change clutched in their hands. Bicycles were tossed aside, pockets dug into.

For 6-year-old Junior Navarrete, the implement for cooling down was a 75-cent Cherry Bomb, while Susana Rodriquez, 10, selected an ice-cold White Lemon Bomb for her sister and a cookie-ice cream combo called a UFO for herself.

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If there has been a benefit to that hot sun blasting down on Ventura County for the last two weeks, it has been to ice cream parlors and vendors like Padilla, who say business has never been brisker.

“I’ve done so much business I burned out my walk-in (freezer) yesterday trying to maintain the vast amount of product I’ve needed,” said John Zodrow, owner of two Penguin’s frozen yogurt stores in Thousand Oaks.

Zodrow said he has been averaging about 500 customers a day per shop--twice his business during the winter.

In deference to those who just do not have the appetite to eat in the heat, Zodrow started offering veritable platters of frozen yogurt as a lunch substitute. “I call it Lite Lunch,” he said proudly. “Four layers of different flavors.”

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Kate Conway, manager of the Creamery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor in Moorpark, said her patrons tend to come in for ice cream in the evening, when a cone can be licked clean without fear of uncontrollable meltdown.

“Between 8 to 10 p.m., it’s just packed in here,” Conway said. “Summertime is our best time.”

Rock Islands Food, which distributes Haagen-Dazs, Nestle and It’s It ice cream products to supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the county, reports a big jump in the appetite for its deliveries.

“With a heat wave like this, deliveries definitely go up,” said spokesman Michael Cudahy. “It should be about 15% above normal.”

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Not only are these the sultry dog days of summer, they are the days of Popsicles, sugar cones and the repetitive jangle of the ice cream truck.

Padilla heads out every afternoon during the summer, waiting until 4 p.m., when even the most energetic children are lying around listlessly waiting for the heat to die down. Sounding like a broken and tuneless record, his truck roams the streets of Moorpark seeking customers.

Daisy Torres, 10, ran out to the curb when she saw Padilla approach, pushing her cousin Salvador, 5, ahead of her. She explained that she was there to assist him in his purchase.

“I don’t have any money,” she said. “I’m just helping him get his Frooty Patooty.”

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Between the salesman and the young customers, there is little conversation. The children gaze up at the stickers illustrating their options on the side of the old white truck. They make their decision by jabbing at the picture, and Padilla leans out to see which one they want.

Frequently, they try to negotiate. A 75-cent nut cone for 50 cents? A Screwball for a quarter?

“No, no,” Padilla tells them, as gently as he can. “Fifty cents. Screwball is 50 cents. Nut cone is 75 cents.”

Stubbornly, they poke longingly at the artist’s rendering of a nut cone anyway, often settling for the old bargain standby, a Popsicle.

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Padilla buys the ice cream from a distributor in San Fernando. During the current heat wave he has been going there daily to stock up. He spends about $30 on the products, then on a good day, grosses about $60. Lately the days have been good.

Many of the ice cream trucks that roam east Ventura County come up from the San Fernando Valley, Padilla said. He usually runs into two or three competitors on his Moorpark route. In Simi Valley, 10 or 12 trucks cruise the residential streets in the afternoon, then head back south.

Padilla tries to beat the competition into the neighborhoods, because his young customers, their change burning a hole in their pockets, are not discriminating in their choice of vendors.

After all, a Cherry Bomb is a Cherry Bomb, no matter who’s driving the truck.

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