The Oldest Ice Cream Shops in America Still Scooping
Ice cream is as American as George Washington. And that’s not just some tired old simile. Our nation’s founding father loved the sweet, cold treat so much that he purchased a “Cream Machine for Ice” for his Mount Vernon home to ensure that he could have ice cream whenever he wanted. When he got elected President, he brought to the White House an assortment of specially-designed ice cream spoons and bowls so the dessert could always be served at official presidential dinners. While his “Cream Machine” is no longer churning, one can still get locally-made ice cream at the restaurant at Mount Vernon. It’s not the only historic scoop shop still serving.
Here are five of the oldest ice cream shops in America to get your ice cream fix:
Where: Oakland, CA
While the claim that it’s the “oldest continuously operating creamery west of the Mississippi” requires some creative interpretation (it was closed for over a year in 2001 due to arson), the historical bonafides of Fenton’s Creamery in Oakland are still strong. Elbridge Fenton established this family dairy in 1894, but it was the ice cream that always drove the business. After getting too big for its original digs, Fenton’s moved a few blocks away to Piedmont Ave in 1961, where it's remained ever since.
Fenton’s is also known for another piece of ice cream lore, one which is also disputed. The Fenton’s side of the story goes that in 1929, candy maker and Fenton’s employee of George Farren was experimenting with making a new walnut and marshmallow flavor. Throwing it in a vat of chocolate ice cream, he realized it was delicious. So, he shared it with his friends William Dreyer and Joseph Eddy - who, of course, also happened to be ice cream makers. Loving it as well, they named it “Rocky Road” in homage of the tough times Americans were experiencing during the Great Depression. To this day, Fenton’s Creamery still claims to be the actual inventor of “Rocky Road” ice cream, although Dreyer’s disagrees.
The Angelo Brocato Original Italian Ice Cream Parlor
When Angelo Brocato arrived in New Orleans from Sicily at the turn of the century, he was already a gelato-making expert, having trained with three different gelato-makers. Despite the fact that gelato was previously unknown in America at the time, Brocato’s was an immediate hit, bringing a slice of Italian culture to the French quarter. Perhaps the most popular item on the menu was torroncino, a vanilla-based gelato with cinnamon and ground almonds that’s sliced like cake.
Flash-forward a century: Literally a month after the family-owned business celebrated one hundred years of gelato in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina hit and flooded their entire Mid-City location (where they moved from the French Quarter in the ‘80s). It took a full year, but Brocato’s reopened, turning the parlor into a vision of Old World Italian charm. Today, the business is still family-owned and they still serve torroncino using the exact same 1905 recipe.
Bassett's Ice Cream
Where: Philadelphia, PA
Widely regarded as the oldest ice cream parlor in America still in existence, this Philly institution has been around for 154 years and has been located in Reading Terminal Market since 1892. Founded in 1861 by the Quaker school teacher Lewis Dubois Bassett, the company has been passed down through the family for generations and is now owned by great-great grandsons.
Still with its original marble counter tops, this famed shop is usually overrun with tourists, hoping to get a taste of the 16 percent butterfat ice cream (most ice creams are 10 percent). While traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate are available, there’s also Cinnamon, Rum Raisin and Guatemalan Ripple. Unfortunately, “Green Tomato” is no longer served. That flavor was discontinued by Lewis D. Bassett himself over 150 years ago.
Where: Norfolk, VA
For many, simply having a scoop or five of ice cream is not enough. It must also be in a waffle cone. This perfect ice cream vessel was invented by Abe Doumar in Coney Island, before moving his operations to Norfolk, Virginia in 1907. What really is amazing, however, is that the original machine that Doumar used to make waffle cones over a century ago is still hard at work, churning out fresh cones to this very day.
According to the origin story, Doumar was selling paperweights at the 1904 World Fair when he had a hankering for ice cream, but the nearby salesman had run out of bowls. On a whim, Doumar bought a waffle and wrapped his ice cream that way. The rest is culinary history. He opened his own stand in Coney Island but moved to Norfolk because of the longer summer season there. After moving around town, Doumar settled on the location on Monticello Avenue in 1934, where the store has been ever since. Until 2014, Doumar’s son Albert was still working there.
Where: Savannah, GA
Opened by three brothers from Greece in 1919, Leopold’s on Gwinnett and Habersham Streets in Savannah was one of the South’s best-known ice cream shops. Unfortunately, time was not kind and the parlor closed in 1969 shortly after the original owners died. But Leopold’s didn’t disappear. The original building and much of the equipment was willed into the hands of Stratton Leopold, son and nephew of the owners. While he worked in Hollywood as a location manager and producer, Stratton kept most of the equipment in his garage in Savannah. When he returned to the city in 2004, he reopened the shop using most of the stuff that was stashed away for years.
While the ice cream shop is in a different location (on East Broughton St.) today, many of the same fixtures and equipment is original, including a recently refurbished sign from the 1920s. It gets extra cred from Academy Award-nominated set designer Dan Lomino (nominated for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind) who designed the new interior. To bring it back full circle, Leopold recently announced a second location set to open in early 2017 - in the original building that his father and his uncle’s first opened Leopold’s in nearly a century ago.