Co-founder of Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores dies at 90

posted 2008-05-08 17:09:29 by mike

LOS ANGELES - Irvine Robbins, who as co-founder of Baskin-Robbins brought Rocky Road, Pralines 'n Cream and other exotic ice cream concoctions to every corner of America, has died at age 90. Robbins had been ill for some time and died Monday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said his daughter Marsha Veit.

While the company advertised that it offered 31 flavors, in fact it has created more than 1,000 flavors, according to its Web site.

Generations of kids trooped to Baskin-Robbins stores to buy ice cream flavors like Jamoca, Daiquiri Ice, Pink Bubblegum, Nuts to You and Here Comes the Fudge.

"Frankly, I never met a flavor I didn't like," Robbins told The New York Times in 1973.

Some were short-lived and created to mark specific events, such as Lunar Cheesecake for the moon landings and Valley Forge Fudge for the 1976 bicentennial.

When the Beatles were to arrive in the United States in 1964, a reporter called to ask whether Baskin-Robbins was going to commemorate the event with a new flavor.

Robbins didn't have a flavor planned but quickly replied, "Uh, Beatle Nut, of course."

The flavor was created, manufactured and delivered in just five days, according to the Web site.

Robbins opened his first ice cream store in Glendale, Calif., in December 1945, following his discharge from the Army. He used $6,000 from a cashed-in insurance policy his father had given him for his bar mitzvah.

Robbins offered 21 flavors at the store.

"In light of what Baskin-Robbins was to become, that first store was incredibly amateurish," according to a biography by his daughter Veit. "It was called 'Snowbird' because Robbins couldn't think of anything else. The opening was delayed for a day because the paint on the floor hadn't dried."

His cousin Sybil Hartfield bought $39 of the first day's sales of $53, according to the biography.

His brother-in-law, the late Burton Baskin, opened his own ice cream store in neighboring Pasadena a year later. By the end of the 1940s, they had joined forces to create Baskin-Robbins. Robbins recalled they used a flip of the coin to decide which name came first.

They also decided to sell their stores to managers, pioneering the franchise concept for ice cream stores.

As corporate policy, employees were allowed to eat all the ice cream they wanted, because, Robbins said, "I don't want my employees stealing."

Robbins was dedicated to upholding the quality of his ice cream regardless of the cost, his daughter said.

"Everybody has a proprietary interest in ice cream," Robbins told the Times for the 1973 story. "All you have to do is mention ice cream and everybody has a flavor."

Baskin-Robbins was sold to United Fruit Co. in 1967, but Robbins continued to work for the company until retiring in the 1970s.

Today, Baskin-Robbins is part of Dunkin' Brands Inc. and has more than 5,800 franchises worldwide.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife, Irma; another daughter, Erin Robbins; a son, John Robbins; and sisters Shirley Familian and Elka Weiner. His son is a noted author ("Diet for a New America") and advocate of vegetarianism and natural foods.