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Carvel is an ice cream franchise chain that still has shops around the country but has long since left the Rochester area.
The company was known here for its gravel-voiced owner/ad pitchman Tom Carvel and for products like Fudgie the Whale, Flying Saucers and Cookie Puss. Carvel once had more than 700 shops nationwide but now has about half that total, with the closest local stores in the Buffalo and Syracuse areas.
Walter Silverman of Brighton owned one of the most successful local Carvel franchises, at East Ridge Road and Hudson Avenue in Irondequoit. He started working for Carvel in 1952.
"They used to call me Mr. Carvel," Silverman said of his customers. "When they added hard ice cream, I hit the bonanza. I made all the flavors myself. The business tripled."Silverman said his franchise was tops in the country in sales and said he added ingredients — like fudge between layers of ice cream cakes — that other shops later adopted.
The real Mr. Carvel was Tom Carvel, a Greek immigrant who started the business in 1934 in Westchester County. As the story goes, Carvel borrowed $15 from his future wife and started selling ice cream from a truck. When the truck got a flat tire one day, Carvel pulled into a parking lot and sold ice cream there.
He did so well that he "realized he could make a lot more money working from a fixed location," and eventually bought the property and converted it into a roadside stand, according to corporate literature.
In 1947, Carvel started to franchise the company and opened 25 ice cream shops by the early 1950s. The first ones hit the Rochester market in 1950, Silverman said.
Carvel's folksy, down-home radio and television ads quickly became popular and noticeable. Carvel narrated the unrehearsed ads and his voice was, to be kind, less than melodic. He used a unique intonation and cadence to market his ice cream and grow the business; even the corporate profile said his voice was "described as a cross between the marble-mouthed gravel of Marlon Brando's character in The Godfather and the loveable, Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz."
The New York Times went further in a 1979 story, saying Carvel was "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 people loved the commercials and became dedicated customers. "His pitches to 'Please visit your local Carvel store' became known to millions," stated a 1990 Times-Union article.
Carvel started with walk-up stands that later became stores. The company began with soft ice cream but added hard flavors in the late 1960s, Silverman said. He started managing a shop on Mount Hope Avenue in 1952 before moving to the Irondequoit store a decade later and becoming owner at Ridge-Hudson in 1969.
Silverman said he took a lot of liberties to benefit customers. He didn't pay attention to the corporate standard operating procedures.
"I threw that out the window," said Silverman, now 92. "I was the chef. We had 25-plus flavors of hard ice cream. With the maple walnut, I increased the maple and the walnut. With the butter pecan, the same thing. I loaded it. I gave better quality and bigger portions."
Silverman estimated that Carvel had at least 10 stores in the Rochester area at one point, including shops in Greece, Panorama Plaza, Webster and Chili and on Culver Road by East High School.
Carvel sold the company in 1989 to an investment bank. By the time he died a year later at age 84, news accounts said Carvel Corp. was the nation's third-largest ice cream store, behind only Dairy Queen and Haagen-Dazs.
The company changed, Silverman said. Corporate headquarters moved from Yonkers to Connecticut and later to Atlanta. In 1992, Carvel started selling its products in grocery stores, a move that Silverman said infuriated him and severely hurt franchisees.
"The take-home business was very important, with the cakes and whatnot," he said. "Carvel stores were closing up. They went from 700 to, in a year or two, losing 300 stores that closed."
Silverman ran the Ridge-Hudson shop as a Carvel until about 1998, when he changed the name to "Walter's Ice Cream." He closed the shop and retired in 2001.
A Carvel spokeswoman said she did not know when Carvel left the Rochester market. Silverman said it was around the time he got out. "I was just about the last one in the Rochester area," he said.
The company website lists Carvel shops in 26 states. New York has the most by far, with 184, the vast majority of which are in eastern New York or downstate. The closest on the website map are a "Carvel Express" at Thruway stop in Angola, Erie County, and one shop in DeWitt, Onondaga County.
Whatever Happened to …? is a feature about Rochester’s haunts of yesteryear and is based on our archives.
Morrell is a Rochester-based freelance writer.
This story was originally published in May 2015.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Carval left Rochester long ago. What happened to the ice cream shops?