Tom Carvel was the personification of the American dream.  Once known as the “patriarch of the world’s biggest mom and pop ice cream parlor,” he was a man who wasn’t afraid of hard work and did what it took to make his “rags to riches” story come true.  He had an engaging manner, twinkling blue eyes, neatly trimmed handlebar mustache and a friendly face.  But he was a tough and honest businessman who demanded only the best from those who worked with him. 

Athanassios Karvelas (1906-1990) was brought to the United States as a child from his native Greece.  At the age of 26, after a variety of careers ranging from a drummer in a Dixieland band to an auto test driver for Studebakers, Carvel was incorrectly diagnosed with fatal tuberculosis and fled to the country air of Westchester, New York.  Borrowing $15 from his future wife Agnes, Tom began selling ice cream from his battered truck.  Memorial Day weekend of 1934, Tom’s truck suffered a flat tire so he pulled his trailer into a parking lot next to a pottery store and began selling his melting ice cream to vacationers driving by.  Within two days, Tom had sold his entire supply of ice cream, and realized that he could make a lot more money working from a fixed location.  The generous potter allowed Tom to hook into his store’s electricity, and Tom opened for business.  Two years later, Tom bought the pottery store, converted it into a roadside stand, and permanently established himself as the first retailer to develop and market soft ice cream. 

With the coming of World War II, Carvel was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he served as a refrigeration consultant and concessionaire.  This experience allowed Carvel to improve his ice cream freezer and team it with a specially formulated liquid ice cream made with the freshest ingredients to create the high quality product we know today.  

As Carvel began selling his patented machinery to other stores, he quickly realized that he could sell not only his machinery, but his expertise as well.  For a flat fee and a percentage of the profits, Carvel began teaching independent store owners the ropes and allowed them to market ice cream under the Carvel name.  In 1947, Carvel cultivated this relatively unknown idea called franchising, and opened 25 stores by the early 1950’s.

Often referred to as the “Father of Franchising,” many of Carvel’s marketing concepts have been emulated not only in franchising, but in almost every industry.  Perhaps he is most famous for his voice as heard in many unrehearsed television and radio spots.  Advertising historians agree this voice, once described as a cross between the marble-mouthed gravel of Marlon Brando’s character in the Godfather and the lovable, cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, was key to both the growth of the company as well as the brand’s loyal following.  The ads attained him regional celebrity status and his golfing buddies included Bob Hope, Perry Como and Jackie Gleason.  Even with his celebrity status, Tom Carvel remained down-to-earth, personable and ultimately became one of our country’s most beloved icons, representing the all-American dream with the most all-American of foods.

20 Responses

  1. Carvel rawks!!!

  2. carvel is great. Can tou tell me a little about your customer care?

  3. i was told you discontinued fudgie the whale and cookie puss i hope this is not true they were the best i always enjoyed them growing up in the 1980’s please bring them back so my kids can enjoy them as much as i did

    • Hi Vince,

      This is not true! Fudgie the Whale & Cookie Puss are both alive and well!! Perhaps you visited one of our smaller locations that doesn’t produce cakes? Either way, our Franchise Partners do still make both of these popular & beloved creations. Simply give your local shoppe a call to order one today!

  4. We just love Carvel’s. I had one in town growing up as a kid (in CT). My parents took us there for special treats, whether we won something, got a good report card, birthdays, sports championship etc. It is something that I associate with my childhood. 40 yrs later and a move to the south I now have options for the yummy goodness of my childhood. I can still hear Tom Carvel’s raspy voice in my head from the commercials on TV.

    They are sprouting up all over the Atlanta area, my new home. Thanks & here’s to Fudgie & cookie puss..

  5. I am 76 now and remember when in Lake Peekskill the first Carvel across from the Peekskill Drive in theater. It was when I was about 12 or thirteen. They did not make the flying saucers yet. I heard there was another name for them first. some one said they were called cartwheels? is this true? please let me know. Thank you.

  6. my family still owns that carvel store and the restaurant across the street from the old drive in theater. they have been closed for years but they both gave people memories that will last forever!

    my grandfather built the early stores for tom carvel and he decided to build one for himself…it is store #59…after my grandfather died my grandmother ran it and then it was passed down to her daughters.iworked there on and off from the age of 8 years old thru my college years.
    we all moved away from new york and the property is now for sale.

  7. I worked at a Carvel Ice Cream Store in St Petersburg, Florida from age 13 until I graduated from high School. It was my home away from home. I would love to find a T-shirt or some merchadise to buy for nostalgic purposes. Old vintage stuff would be great too.

    • Hi Russell,

      Thanks for sharing your memories of & interest in Carvel! Unfortunately, we don’t sell merchandise or memorabilia – but we certainly know there’s a lot of interest, as you can find a lot of stuff being sold on the internet. I wish I could help – but will certainly pass your interest along to our corporate team.

      Thank you –

      Ashley Swann

  8. Can you please tell us when the first Harrison New York carvel opened?

    • Hi Tony!

      Thanks for your interest in Carvel. According to my records, our current location in Harrison opened in September of 1976. Unfortunately, this is the only information I have on stores in that area.

      Hope this is helpful!

      Ashley Swann

  9. where is your closest full service store? i used to go to one in anaheim california. the only place i could find was in a sandwich shop in brea and the
    y did not have all your products… alan boyer Rancho Santa Margarita, California

  10. To this day I still love Carvel ice cream. Nothing like it. I have one of your cakes sitting in my frige right now. I haven’t had one in many years. But I grew up Camden, NJ in the 70s and remember the Carvels there for sure. Couldn’t miss the distinctive shape of the store! Thank you Mr. Carvel for making your dream a reality!

  11. Hello!
    My fathers brother Frank Drace was the voice to many of the Carvel singing advertisements. I have found a couple on YouTube but can’t find the more famous one about flying saucers. Any clue if that’s around anywhere?? Thanks :)

    • Hi Kristin,

      The only place to find the commercials are on YouTube. As far as we know all the commercials haven’t been converted to modern technology requirements.

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