There are not many people who don't count ice cream as one of their all-time favorite desserts.

When it's made with high-

quality dairy products, it's one of the few sweet confections which is actually good for you. As a protein and calcium source, ice cream is a healthy alternative guaranteed to satisfy one's cravings for sweetness.

Recently opened in downtown Fairfield's Brickwalk, Gofer Ice Cream and Smoothies offers two special frozen treats which are rich and delicious, and also low in calories. These are the Smarter Smoothie -- a red tea infused with real fruit -- and Gofer Light, which is ice cream that boasts of only having 15 calories per ounce. Both items are available in various sizes.

"We think our health-conscious consumers in Fairfield are going to enjoy sampling these two products," said Justin A. Ragusa, director of marketing for Gofer Ice Cream.

He explained that his company's research indicated a shift in consumers' eating patterns and a marked increase in a desire to purchase healthier foods.

"People want to enjoy good taste in ice cream but they have become much more aware of their overall health, too." he said.

Gofer Ice Cream has been recognized by Connecticut Magazine for the last three years as "Best Ice Cream Shop" in its "Best of the Gold Coast" annual awards.

The family-owned and operated business was started by Justin's brother, Jay, in 2003.

"Jay originated the business eight years ago and brought the rest of the family in," Justin explained. Family members involved in the thriving enterprise are parents, John and Joyce Ragusa, and their third son, Jeff.

Justin cited one of the benefits of working directly with family members as the fact that "they are dependable."

"You spend a lot of time talking to each other," he said, somewhat wryly.

The downtown Fairfield site marks Gofer Ice Cream's fourth store in Fairfield County. There are also locations in Greenwich, Darien and Stamford. Justin noted that a fifth store is scheduled to open soon in downtown Bridgeport.

Since its debut in Fairfield about a month ago, Justin said the community has "embraced" the town's new ice cream parlor. "We've gotten really positive responses so far," he said.

The company's somewhat unusual name was created by Jay and based on the company's slogan, "It's always a good day to... Gofer Ice Cream." And, of course, an image of a `gopher' holding an ice cream cone is used to further convey this message.

Describing Jay as "a former finance guy on Wall Street who hung up his suit and tie to work in the ice cream business," Justin credits his brother with not only coming up with Gofer Ice Cream's initial business plan, but also for creating its scrumptious homemade ice cream recipes.

"My personal favorite is called Cherry Sensation," Justin said.

Using a vanilla base, cherries, chocolate fudge and "something crunchy" are mixed together to create this mouth-watering sensation.

"People also seem to like popular flavors such as the vanillas and mint chocolate chip," he continued.

However, Gofer Ice Cream also features more unusual flavors such as cotton candy, "Gofer tracks" -- comprised of Heath Bar candy, brownie, caramel and praline -- and toasted almond.

Using premium products, most of the homemade hard ice cream is made on-site. Soft serve selections of chocolate, vanilla and a mix of both are also available for purchase. In addition, Gofer Ice Cream offers fat-free yogurt smoothies, Italian ices, blended ice coffee and ice cream cakes and pies. Choices of cones -- including homemade waffle and chocolate chip cones -- and a wide variety of toppings make it a thoroughly exhilarating ice cream experience.

There is seating available inside and outside of the store. The family has also recently made franchise opportunities available to others who want to venture into the ice cream business.

"We are a local, home-grown operation," Justin noted. "We're expanding regionally and working our way up the east coast, but we invented the Gofer Ice Cream brand."

Gofer Ice Cream is located at 1241 Post Road, Fairfield. For more information, call Justin A. Ragusa at 303-903-0502 or visit www.GoferIceCream.com