When the destination is worth it, the distance traveled can be completely irrelevant.

When the destination is worth it, the distance traveled can be completely irrelevant.

“I used to live in Jackson, so we have known about it for a while,” said Solon resident Sydney Caudill as she sat with her daughters Aubrey, 5, and Regan, 3, outside Chubby's Treats on one of the first perfect ice-cream-weather days of the year. “They really like the ‘flavor bursts,’ and the building is hard to miss.”

To which Aubrey quickly added, “It's a cone.”

The story behind the unique architecture, at 5326 Fulton Drive NW, that became Chubby's is but the first chapter in a 20-year family saga. While the Caudills' trip to the esteemed soft-serve stand might have put a few more miles on the odometer than most, building that sort of family and community connectedness was a top priority of owners Steve and Cherrie Zehnder before they even knew what sort of business they were going to open.

“We didn't know a thing about ice cream, but we knew what we didn't want to be,” Cherrie Zehnder said of the founding Chubby's. “We didn't want something you could get off the street; something you could find anywhere. But we wanted to be somewhere families could afford to come, like a neighborhood place.”

At the time, Zehnder was working at General Electric and her husband was working at Mercy Medical Center.

“Both of our kids were in college so we decided to open a small business,” Zehnder said. “We thought, ‘why not ice cream?’”

Credit for naming the business, Zehnder said, goes to her better half.

“Steve came up with the idea; it is named after my dad, Charles E. Wingerter,” Zehnder said. “He was always a chubby, little guy and that was his nickname from when he was in the Navy – or maybe even before.”

Zehnder said she was initially hesitant about calling the new ice cream stand “Chubby's.”

“But I thought about it and thought, well, it's not as bad as calling it ‘Fatso’s’ or something,” she reasoned. “And when my dad heard about it, he just lit up.”

Given the green light by Chubby himself, the only thing left for the nascent entrepreneurs was to locate some doors.

“This building was part of a franchise in Florida that went belly-up,” Zehnder said of the immediately recognizable ice cream cone-shaped stand. “So when we got it, there was no contract.  But we did have to get a structural engineer to make sure it got approved for things like snow-bearing capacity of the roof.”

For you see, concerns over how much snow might accumulate upon ones ice cream-shaped roof during certain times of the year is not quite as much of an issue for business owners in Florida.

Once Chubby's opened for business the owners set out to uphold the “Life's too short to eat bad ice cream” motto. Word soon spread through the neighborhood about the little ice cream stand with the great frozen treats. Favorites like the hot fudge-caramel-pecan-filled Chubby's Special, mix-and-match shake flavors, homemade waffle cones, eight “flavor burst” syrup selections soon became legendary. But the fat-free and sugar-free ice cream and yogurt varieties became particularly popular with diabetic and nutritionally conscious patrons.

“I remember when I used to diet, everything fat- and sugar-free tasted like wallpaper paste,” Zehnder said of the health-conscious offerings. “I wanted to make one that I liked. A lot of people don't realize that, for instance, those with diabetes can't participate in dessert.”

Response outside of work, however, has often made for some of the greatest moments, Zehnder said.

“Sometimes people will ask ‘are the Chubby's lady?’” she said with a laugh. “But the best part is still when you run into someone at the store and they tell you things like ‘you have the best kids working there.’ That is a compliment to us.”

One of those “kids” is Lauren Goodwill, who has returned to her summer job at Chubby's after graduating from Bethany University this year.

“I came here as a little girl,” Goodwill said of her own introduction to Chubby's. “And I call Cherrie my ‘Chubby's mom.’ I think I text her as much as my own mom.”

Zehnder said that over the years, employees have come from as close as the Central Catholic, North Canton Hoover and Lake Local schools, They also come from as far away as Akron.

“We have 15 employees now,” Zehnder said. “It really is like a family. And my granddaughters, who are 8 and 9, think they are on the payroll,too.”

While the often fast-paced job is not for everyone, Goodwill said working at Chubby's has created friendships that otherwise would have been unlikely.

“One of my best friends is 10 years older than me, but we met here,” Goodwill said. “Everyone who works here says they can't wait to get back to Chubby's.”

In Goodwill's case, as she continues to work toward becoming the longest-running Chubby's employee in history, that may be even more true.

“I'm going to be a teacher,” she said with a grin. “So, I will still have summers off.”

After two decades, Zehnder said she is sometimes surprised that the family's business venture has been so sweet.

“I always said ‘I want to be here in five years’ and to realize you've been here for 20, it’s hard to believe,” she said.

But then again, given the devotion of both Chubby's employees and customers, perhaps that realization is not so unexpected.

“As a seasonal business, we have been blessed that our kids have come back – they know the customers and we have been able to watch them grow,” Zehnder said. “The best part about this business is that 99 percent of the time, people come here to celebrate; it's a feel-good business. The (little league) baseball coaches all know that we give them a 20 percent discount and we have become a landmark for people. I am glad to know that.”

And even though a few more of those Florida-born, cone-shaped stands actually ended up in the greater Canton and Massillon areas, Zehnder was clear when pointing out the most important distinction.

“Oh, there is only one Chubby's,” she said with a smile.