Runaway Dinosaur

For the love of the music…..

Friday Food-A Sad day in Ice Cream Land…Irvine Robbins has passed away

Posted by jhochstat on May 8, 2008

Photo Courtesy: Tony Korody/Sygma

Published: May 7, 2008
Irvine Robbins, who with his brother-in-law, Burton Baskin, started the Baskin-Robbins chain of ice cream stores — together concocting quirky flavor combinations with names like Daiquiri Ice, Pink Bubblegum and Here Comes the Fudge — died on Monday near his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 90.

He died of natural causes, his daughter Marsha Veit said.

The company name could have been Robbins-Baskin. Although it was Mr. Robbins who opened the first store, at the intersection of Adams and Palmer Streets in Glendale, Calif., on Dec. 7, 1945, and it was three years more before he and Mr. Baskin became partners, they took a carefully familial approach to deciding who would come first in the name of what eventually became a vast international enterprise. They flipped a coin.

“They worked closely on everything,” Ms. Veit said. “They would come up with ideas for flavors based on what was happening at the time, like Cocoa a Go-Go, when go-go dancers were popular. They would sit in the kitchen tasting, making sure the best ingredients were used.”

The company’s famous “31 flavors” (essentially one for each day of the month, but actually 34 when chocolate, vanilla and strawberry were included) have varied, numbering more than 1,000 over the years, according to its Web site. They include Nuts to You, Baseball Nut, Rocky Road, Candi-date, Cafe Olé, Huckleberry Finn, chocolate cheesecake, pineapple coconut and Mr. Robbins’s personal favorite, Jamoca almond fudge.

One day in 1964, Ms. Veit said, he received a phone call from a reporter for The New York Post, asking what flavor Baskin-Robbins was planning to introduce to celebrate the Beatles’ arrival for their appearance on Ed Sullivan’s television show. Caught unaware, he came up with Beatlenut, and then scrambled to find an unnamed flavor with nuts in it to match. Two days later, it was in all the company’s stores. By then, there were about 650 Baskin-Robbins stores nationwide.

In a 1976 interview in The New York Times, in which he said he ate three or four scoops a day, Mr. Robbins said that Americans had become adventurous in their ice cream choices. “They’re not embarrassed to ask for some of these wild flavors,” he said. “I think we’ve had a little bit to do with making it more acceptable.”

At the time, Mr. Robbins was still chairman of Baskin-Robbins, although the company had been sold to United Fruit in 1967, the year Mr. Baskin died. When Mr. Robbins retired in 1978, the chain had more than 1,600 stores in the United States, Canada, Japan and Belgium. Baskin-Robbins, along with Dunkin’ Donuts, is now part of Dunkin’ Brands, with 5,800 stores in 34 countries.

“We were in the franchising business before the word was popular,” Mr. Robbins said.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Dec. 6, 1917, Mr. Robbins was the son of Aaron and Goldie Chmelnitsky Robbins, immigrants from Poland and Russia, respectively. When Mr. Robbins was a child, the family moved to Tacoma, Wash., where his father became a partner in a dairy.

As a teenager, Mr. Robbins worked at the retail store connected to the dairy where, among other products, ice cream was sold at a nickel a cone — “a pretty big one, too,” he said. He soon realized that he could double or triple sales with playful labeling: “Super Banana Treat” replaced a sign that said “three scoops of ice cream, a slice of banana, two kinds of toppings.”

“I got the idea that the way to sell ice cream was not through a grocery store but through a specialty store,” he said.

After Mr. Robbins graduated from the University of Washington in 1939 and served in the Army in World War II, he was able to test that idea. He cashed in an insurance policy his father had given him as a bar mitzvah present and used the $6,000 to open his first store.

By 1953, the partners sold the eight stores they owned to the managers and began making far more money producing ice cream at a plant in Burbank, Calif. An advertising agency designed the Baskin-Robbins logo, the chocolate-and-cherry-dotted signs and the “31 flavors” concept.

Mr. Robbins married Irma Gevurtz in 1942. Besides his wife and his daughter Marsha, of Mount Kisco, N.Y., he is survived by another daughter, Erin Robbins of Grass Valley, Calif.; a son John, of Soquel, Calif.; two sisters, Shirley Familian, who was Mr. Baskin’s wife, and Elka Weiner, both of Los Angeles; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Ice cream never melted from Mr. Robbins’s mind. When the family lived in Encino, Calif., the house had a soda fountain inside and a swimming pool outside shaped like an ice cream cone. After the company was sold in 1967, Mr. and Mrs. Robbins rented an apartment in Balboa at Newport Beach, to be near the boat they had bought and christened The 32d Flavor.

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