My first memory of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours was in 1983. I had just arrived in Virginia to attend boarding school after having lived overseas for most of my life. I remember the staff running through the restaurant delivering one of the famous "Zoo" sundaes to a birthday party. The ice cream was mounded high in the huge bowl and the noise level was deadening. After a rather sober life overseas, this cacophony and exuberance were surprising and exhilarating.
Memories and nostalgia are a big part of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours. For the company, they use their 1890s decor and costumes to whisk you to a bygone era. For patrons the nostalgia is more potent. Specific memories can easily be triggered simply by the sound of the player piano or the sight of a heaping sundae being set down before them. Memories transport people back to happy times with family and friends, celebrating special events. It might have been a birthday, a promotion, a new baby, or just because.
Traveling down memory lane, it was 1963 when the first Farrell's was opened in Portland, Oregon. Robert "Bob" Farrell opened up a restaurant which took you farther back in time to the late 1800s with period costumes, a player piano, and an old fashioned soda fountain. He also used his own nostalgic memories of the New York delicatessens and corner candy shops from his childhood.
The idea was for Farrell's to be a place for celebrations, a family restaurant with simple favorites like burgers and sandwiches, but with a focus on sweet treats as a tasty reward for that special occasion. The soda fountain and the fancy sundaes have always been the stars with more even sweets at the candy store to tempt one's sweet tooth with a treat to-go.
NOSTALGIA IS THE MAGIC INGREDIENT
Good customer service and a lively, fun atmosphere are what led to Farrell's early success. So much so that by the mid 1970s there were 130 locations nationwide. But the company changed hands several times and in the 80s and the 90s the count slowly declined until Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours had all but disappeared.
Farrell's are slowly making a comeback, thanks to nostalgia. Now owned by Parlour Enterprises in Southern California, it is happy memories that brought new life to the brand.
Parlour Enterprises CEO Mike Fleming would go with his buddies to his local Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour after his high school football games. It was the perfect place to celebrate another victory and he treasured those memories. Meanwhile, Paul Kramer, President of Parlour Enerprises, also remembered back to the age of 7 when he tried to eat the Pig's Trough to match his two elder brothers. He wanted the ribbon and the recognition that he was just like them.
It was their childhood memories that united them in bringing back Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours the way they remembered them - lively and fun, complete with costumes, candy store, piano, sirens, and drums. It's also what brings back a new generation of customers.
Rachel thinks of the candy store fondly. "You would walk in to a wonderland of candy and treats and I just remember thinking - what can I get?!"
"I remember going to the (Farrell's) at Sunrise Mall," says Paul. "It was all big windows, kind of like a solarium, so that as you walked by you could see all this fun and activity going on inside. It made you want to go in and be a part of it."
Eduardo remembers, "I worked at the one at Tysons Corner (VA). I remember the shoes melting in the dishroom, having to go from there straight to the freezer (what fun), having an apron covered in every flavor of ice cream and being told to run a Zoo around the parlour. Still had great fun as it was the first job and first paycheck."
Mark is now working at the soda fountain at the new Sacramento Farrell's. He pulls out a Pig's Trough and explains that it is basically a double banana split. "I was about 7 and we came for my birthday," Mark says. "My dad let me order the Pig's Trough even though it was too much for me. He helped me eat it. If you are able to finish it, you have to sing the Piggie song and you get a ribbon. That's my best memory." And now Mark is making Pig's Troughs for the next generation.
FUTURE MEMORIES ARE IN THE MAKING
It's due to Parlour Enterprises keeping the familiar ingredients of fun, food, and nostalgia that have brought Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours back to life. It is the ability to keep making endless happy memories that will keep Farrell's thriving into the future for generations to come.
Photos courtesy of Farrellsusa.com.