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Carvel ice cream delights kids of all ages

by Brian Clarey

She’s crazy about ice cream.

There are other loves in her life – her pink jacket, for instance, or Barney the dinosaur, her princess tea set.

And, presumably, her daddy.

But right now it’s about the ice cream. It’s also about being the baby daughter with two big brothers, about being one of the last children to be picked up from day care at the end of the day for like two weeks now, about the growing pains that are kicking in halfway through her third year of life while she makes the transition from “baby girl” to “little girl.”

She’s also, by virtue of her age, the member of the family with whom I’ve spent the least amount of accumulated time. But our relationship is deliciously simple: I’m the daddy and she’s my girl.

And today we’re going for ice cream.

I leave my desk in the middle of the day, break her out of day care and make for the Carvel on Stanley Road, not far from my office. She’s hopping from one foot to the next once we get in the door. I order two simple sundaes: mine chocolate with caramel sauce, hers chocolate-vanilla swirl with strawberry sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. They look good side by side on the counter.

“Is that ice creams?” she wants to know.

“Yes.”

“Is that my ice creams?” She wants to know.

“Yes, it’s yours.”

“Yay!”

It’s a sweet moment.

Carvel was part of the landscape in the when and where of my childhood. There was one in every neighborhood, it seemed, and the commercials were a ubiquitous presence on television and radio. I can still hear Tom Carvel’s voice now, extolling the virtues of Fudgie the Whale (“For a Whale of a Dad!”) and the unfortunately named Cookie Puss. He had a gravelly voice and a discernible outer-borough accent, and the commercials were so low-budget, even by 1970s standards, I figured it to be a local mom-and-pop mini chain.

But in reality, Tom Carvel, born Thomas Andreas Carvelas in Athanassos, Greece, was the granddaddy of restaurant franchising.

According to his Smithsonian biography, in the summer of 1934 Tom Carvel built a frozen custard cart with $1,000 he borrowed from his relatives, bought $20 worth of custard with money loaned from his wife, Agnes, and lit out for Westchester, north of New York City, to cash in on Memorial Day crowds.

His car broke down in Hartsdale, so he set up in the parking lot of a pottery store. Three years later he had a permanent stand in Hartsdale, and by the 1940s he was selling his custard from several locations in New York and a single stand at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, North Carolina.

He designed a special freezer for his wares and began selling them to individuals who then opened their own custard stands, but in traveling the country Carvel found that many who had bought his freezers ran custard shops that were unsanitary or otherwise untrue to his original vision.

He claimed to have invented the concept of the franchise in 1949.

With the purchase of the Carvel name, franchise owners got equipment and a supply line, help in choosing a location, building plans and an education in the ice cream business at Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge.

It’s basically the same model Ray Kroc used for his hamburger chain McDonald’s

Carvel published magazines for his employees and customers, took the company public and then private again, and developed 16 patents for more efficient ice cream manufacture and distribution.

And he had a knack for promotions and marketing.

Things, of course, have changed a bit over the years: Along with the Flying Saucers, Cookie Puss and Fudgie, who over the years has been anthropomorphized into a genuine foam-rubber mascot-type figure, they now have smoothies (which meant something else entirely in the ’70s), house-baked waffle cones and an item called the “Carvelanche,” a heroic portion of soft-serve blended with candy or cake batter. They have a coffee menu and the technology to make photorealistic designs on cakes.

But they still use the same chocolate crunchies.

My little girl is blissfully unaware of the history of the joint as she bellies up to her sundae, hunches her tiny shoulders and arms protectively around it.

“That’s mines,” she says. “This one’s yours.”

She shovels a big glob into her mouth. Her eyes go wide. She shivers. She smiles.

“I love my ice cream! Thank you daddy!”

She pokes at the ice cream in her bowl, stirs it, digs to the bottom. She tilts her head and squinches her eyes at me. She smears a bit on her face and it drips onto the tabletop.

Another sweet moment.

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