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Twitter user @CarvelIceCream

12 Sweet Facts About Carvel

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Twitter user @CarvelIceCream

There’s a lot to know from the 81-year history of America’s first ice cream franchise.

1. THOMAS CARVEL STARTED HIS ICE CREAM EMPIRE WITH A LOAN FROM HIS FUTURE WIFE.

Watch a reenactment of the early days in this 1955 educational video.

In 1910, Tom Carvel was just 4 years old when he moved to America along with the rest of his family from Greece. As a young man, Carvel tried his hand at a number of odd jobs, including test-driving Studebaker cars. But after he was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis, doctors recommended that Carvel get out of the automotive business and out of New York City. He moved to Westchester, borrowed $15 from his soon-to-be-wife, Agnes, and in 1934, a 26-year-old Carvel started selling ice cream out of a truck.

2. SOFT-SERVE WAS INVENTED WHEN A TRUCK BROKE DOWN.

Carvel’s business almost went bust that first year. On Memorial Day weekend, in Hartsdale, Carvel's truck broke down and the ice cream started to melt. Carvel hurried to sell what he could and quickly found that heat-softened ice cream was a hit. He called the product “soft-serve” and sold it all summer right out of the broken down truck in a pottery store parking lot. It turned out that customers loved the stationary stand and the slightly softened ice cream; Carvel earned $3500 (more than $60,000 in today’s money).

3. CARVEL’S SOFT-SERVE MACHINE WAS THE FIRST OF MANY PATENTS.

Following that fortuitous breakdown in 1934 (for what it’s worth: Dairy Queen disputes the origin story of soft-serve), Carvel put his mechanical experience to use to build a machine that churned soft-serve—it was the first of more than 300 patents, copyrights, and trademarks that Carvel would acquire during his long career. His original intent was just to sell the machines to other ice cream shops, but when they proved too tricky to operate without Carvel’s guidance, he had no choice but to start hiring people himself and launch the Carvel Corporation in 1947, making him the self-proclaimed "father of franchising" in America.

4. CARVEL WAS AN INNOVATOR MANY TIMES OVER.

In addition to soft-serve, among the many firsts Tom Carvel was responsible for were round ice cream sandwiches, and he was one of the first to offer “buy one get one free” promotions.

5. AT LEAST ONE OF THE SIGNATURE CAKES BECAME A CULTURAL ICON.

In the '70s, Carvel debuted a line of slight bizarre-looking cakes that included Fudgie the Whale, Hug-Me Bear, and Cookie Puss. Although Fudgie the Whale—advertised as a Father’s Day treat—is still the best seller today and they all became part of the cultural lexicon, Cookie Puss had particularly wide-ranging impact. The Carvel-endorsed origin story claimed that the Cookie Puss was an alien who originally went by the name Celestial Person (or “CP”) but that’s likely got nothing to do with why the cake was a popular reference on The Howard Stern Show or its titular role in the Beastie Boys’ debut single.

6. TOM CARVEL’S UNREHEARSED ADS HELPED PUT THE COMPANY ON THE MAP.

Advertising experts cite Tom Carvel as one of the first executives to voice his own ads on radio and television. "I can't find anyone cheaper than me," Carvel is reported to have said of casting himself. His gravelly voice and imperfect diction was instantly notable and memorable. A 1979 New York Times story put him "on the enemies list of every elocution teacher who ever watched him transform a television commercial to a 60-second comedy of syntactical errors." But the unscripted, unedited spots charmed the public.

"The professionals ridicule my commercials, but who cares?" Carvel told the Times in 1985. "You can have a six-foot-tall, handsome announcer with a perfect voice, perfect diction, perfect grammar. But very few ice-cream buyers look like that. Our commercials are for the people who look like us, talk like us and sound like us."

7. FOLLOWING THOMAS CARVEL’S DEATH, THE COMPANY FORTUNE WAS MIRED IN MYSTERY AND CONTROVERSY.

Just days before he died in 1990, 84-year-old Thomas Carvel told a close associate that he had begun to worry that Mildred Arcadipane, his secretary and confidant of 38 years, and Robert Davis, his longtime lawyer, were scheming against him. Despite their years of service, Carvel planned to relieve them of their considerable power within the company. He died of a heart attack before he had the chance to do so. In the decades since his death, Carvel’s fears have been proven well-founded. Arcadipane and Davis fought bitterly for years against Carvel’s widow Agnes and his niece Pamela over the $67 million estate—and the fighting wasn’t always fair. While Agnes attended her late husband’s wake, Davis and a hired locksmith broke into the couple’s home to search for a will, and in 2007, Pamela—the sole surviving member of the feud—requested that her uncle’s body be exhumed for an additional autopsy in an effort to prove he’d been murdered. That request was denied, and later an arrest warrant was issued for Pamela Carvel—who had filed for bankruptcy—for civil contempt.

8. THE ORIGINAL CARVEL LOCATION LASTED OVER 70 YEARS.

Two years after that fateful breakdown in Hartsdale, N.Y., Thomas Carvel bought a permanent ice cream shop on the very same street. The store, 25 miles north of Manhattan, served up sweet treats for over seven decades. It was also the site of the first ice cream supermarket in 1956. But rising rents and taxes took a toll and in October 2008, the original Carvel closed for good.

9. ASPIRING FRANCHISEES LEARN THE ROPES DURING AN INTENSIVE COURSE AT CARVEL COLLEGE.

Thomas Carvel was a notoriously strict CEO during his lifetime (so much so that he faced legal action from franchisees who accused him of violating Federal Trade Commission regulations—Carvel ultimately won the case at the Supreme Court level). To keep standards high and consistent, aspiring franchisees attended a 14-day training program (now just 10 days) at the Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge (or, Sundae School), where Mr. Carvel himself gave the commencement speech. The school launched in 1949, and Carvel later purchased a motel in Yonkers, N.Y. to serve as the Carvel Inn, training school, and production studio for their in-house commercials.

10. THE COMPANY HAS A COUPLE WORLD RECORDS.

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In 2002, the then-68-year-old company set the Guinness World Record for the largest ice cream pyramid, live on the CBS Early Show. Over the course of 58 minutes, 28 Carvel employees stacked 3894 scoops of Carvel's creamy vanilla ice cream 53 inches high in 22 layers. The final pyramid weighed in at 1005 pounds and 778,800 calories.

Two years later, the company celebrated its 70th anniversary with a record-setting world’s largest ice cream cake. The 2096-pound, 19x9-foot cake took 75 minutes and 54 people to assemble.

11. THERE WAS A VERY SHORT-LIVED CARVEL HAMBURGER FRANCHISE.

Hubie’s, or H-burger, was trademarked by Carvel in 1960 but the home of the 15-cent hamburger—which also featured whole barbeque chicken—failed to take off. It seems Tom Carvel’s passion was never really burgers—he had previously turned down the chance to get involved with McDonald’s when it was just starting out, stating that he felt ice cream and burgers don’t really go together.

12. YOU CAN MAKE THE "CRUNCHIES" AT HOME.

Happy Tuesday to you...Happy Tuesday to you…#CelebrateEverything

Posted by Carvel Ice Cream on Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A big part of what makes Carvel ice cream cakes so reliably delicious is that crumbly cookie layer between the two flavors. Dedicated fans around the Internet (with a little help from Food Network Magazine) found out that the company uses crumbled flying saucer cookies (from their ice cream sandwiches) mixed with their in-house chocolate dip that hardens. But you can make a pretty good duplicate at home using chocolate Nabisco wafers or Oreo crumbs mixed with Smucker's Magic Shell.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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