The ice cream chain celebrated its 80th birthday this year!
1. IT WAS FOUNDED BY A PAIR OF BROTHERS DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION.
Curtis and S. Prestley Blake—who were just 18 and 20 years old at the time—opened Friendly Ice Cream in Springfield, Mass. in 1935. The brothers borrowed $547 from their parents for the shop, where they sold two-scoop cones at 5 cents apiece. The brothers' contrasting personalities later led to a brief falling out, but it was also their secret to success.
"My mom used to say if Pres owned the business alone, he wouldn’t have any employees," Curtis, then 97, told the Boston Globe in 2014. "If I owned the business alone, I would give it all away to the employees."
2. FOOD WAS ADDED TO THE MENU FOR THE SECOND LOCATION.
Their first shop only offered ice cream, but when they opened a second location in West Springfield five years later, food was added to the menu. The first savory offering: A square burger patty on toasted bread known as the Set Up. In the decades since, the original was replaced with a standard burger, but the Set Up remains the favorite of founder Pres Blake.
3. FRIENDLY’S WAS CLOSED FROM 1943—1945.
The brothers closed up shop for two years during World War II—but kept their locations, promising to reopen “when we win the war.”
4. FRIENDLY’S ICE CREAM MIGHT BE THE SECRET TO A LONG LIFE.
The Blake brothers’ mom, Ethel, lived to be 97 years old. Her sons eat ice cream every day—both like chocolate, Pres also enjoys coffee—and both are still living 80 years after founding Friendly’s. Now well past retirement age, the brothers have stayed busy and active. Prestley celebrated his centennial birthday last year with a black-tie bash at his newly-completed $7.5 million replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. And Curtis, now 99, funds a school for learning disabled children.
5. THE 'S' CAME LATER.
Even after they started franchising, the Blake brothers’ chain was called simply "Friendly." The possessive didn’t get added until the late 1980s, when Donald Smith, who had already brought his business savvy to McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, bought the chain for $375 million and made the menu full-service along with changing the name ever so slightly.
6. THE FAMOUS FRIBBLE USED TO BE CALLED THE "AWFUL AWFUL."
The recipe for the original Friendly’s shake, which was distinct for using ice milk, was licensed from the Bond ice cream shop chain in New Jersey in the 1940s. There, legend has it, a customer tasted the frothy concoction and described it as “awful big and awful good”—inspiring the name Awful Awful. In the 1960s, Friendly’s started to expand into New Jersey, and needed a new name so as not to infringe on Bond’s territory, since the local chain owned the Awful Awful name. Friendly's held a naming contest and three customers who suggested “Fribble” received $100 each. In the mid-1990s, the Fribble recipe was changed to include soft serve ice cream and revamped again two years ago when Friendly’s switched to hard ice cream.
7. IN 2013, FRIENDLY’S WENT RETRO.
The switch from soft serve to hard ice cream in their famous Fribble was one of a whole slew of changes Friendly’s made in 2013 as the brand attempted to regain financial footing. In 2011, the ice cream chain had been forced to declare bankruptcy and close 100 locations. John M. Maguire, who had previously worked for Panera Bread, was hired to revamp the company with new décor, better music, bigger portion sizes, burgers cooked to order, and a reinvigorated focus on customer service. Many of the elements they incorporated in the new design and menu were inspired by the early days of Friendly’s.
8. FRIENDLY’S HOLDS THE WORLD RECORD FOR LARGEST DESSERT PARTY.
The company celebrated its 78th birthday in 2013 by setting the Guinness World Record for the largest dessert party. The minimum amount of time to constitute a “party” is 15 minutes, so 794 guests sat down for a quarter-hour of ice cream eating at the Friendly's headquarters in Wilbraham, Mass., breaking the previous record of 740 people set the year before in Nebraska. Prestley Blake and his family were among the record-setting attendees, although his brother Curtis was not.
9. THEY SELL A LOT OF PRE-PACKAGED ICE CREAM.
The chain is still in the process of building back up their restaurant presence in the wake of filing for bankruptcy, but they do great business in the grocery store aisles. In 2014, Friendly’s produced over 52 million 48-ounce cartons of ice cream, covering 63 flavors. But, as you'd expect, vanilla is their most popular flavor.