Carvel

Carvel

If you are one of those people that prefers your ice cream on the softer side, you can give a tip of the hat to a man named Tom Carvel. He began selling his soft-serve concoction to New Yorkers in the 1930s and today, there are over 500 Carvel Ice Cream stores across the country, each a welcome sight on a sweltering summer day – which is where the whole story starts.

In 1929, a Greek immigrant named Tom Carvelas was selling frozen custard from a homemade trailer around his hometown of Hartsdale, New York on Memorial Day. The victim of a flat tire, he found himself stranded on the side of the road with his ice cream starting to melt. Strangely enough though, his sales that day went through the roof. He realized two things from the experience – a fixed location was a good way to sell ice cream, and people seemed to prefer the softer ice cream anyway. On the very location that his truck broke down, he built his first ice cream store and started selling soft ice cream to the locals.

Ever the entrepreneur, Tom went on to invent the “Custard King” ice cream freezer, a machine from which to dispense his soft-serve desserts. He sold 71 of these machines only to realize that the buyers didn’t really know what they were doing. Frustrated, he decided to franchise Carvel stores and oversaw each location personally to ensure his strict standards were met. In the 50s, he had 25 locations. Over the decade that followed, that number would expand to almost 200 locations. Tom was doing something right.

There were more brilliant moves to come. First, he decided to star in his own television commercials, his gruff voice and fatherly image endearing him to generations of ice cream fans. He also went above and beyond the traditional fare of cones, shakes and sundaes. The “Flying Saucer” offered a mound of vanilla or chocolate ice cream squeezed between two circular chocolate wafer cookies. His “Bonnets” (either Brown or Red) consisted of a soft serve cone dipped into either a chcocolate or cherry hardening shell.

When it came to novelties, however, his biggest sellers have always been the delectable ice cream cakes. each with a layer of chocolate and vanilla ice cream separated by a thin layer of chocolate cookie crumbs and covered with a layer of frosting. Tom had one available for seemingly any occasion, with his biggest sellers the “Fudgie the Whale” cake, the “Cookie Puss” and the Thanksgiving-appropriate “Tom The Turkey.” There was a cake for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, you name it. Today, Carvel ice cream cakes can be found in over 9,000 supermarkets around the country, although those are a bit more generic.

Tom decided to retire in 1989, selling Carvel for a cool $80 million. Sadly, he passed away the following year, but his soft-serve frozen custard and quirky novelties live on. It’s a perfect example of the American Dream – where, in the course of a bad day, a simple man learned how to turn ice cream into gold.

If you are a fan of Carvel Ice Cream, we would love to hear your thoughts and memories of these frozen treats in our comments section below.

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