Ice Cream Industry in Savannah

 

Robert Chase Anderson

Throughout history ice cream has been the chosen treat of summer, but in winter the sales seem to go down. Although, there is an ice cream shop that always prospers no matter the time of year. This shop is named Leopold’s located in downtown Savannah. They do sell more than ice cream now, but they started off only selling ice cream in the year 1919. Ice cream is a business that will always have its ups and downs, but Leopold’s continues to come out on top in Savannah when it comes to the ice cream industry.

Ice cream is widely known today as a sweet treat on hot days, but where did it come from? “Ice cream’s origins are known to reach back as far as the second century B.C., although no specific date of origin nor inventor has been undisputedly credited with its discovery. We know that Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar.”[1] The Bible also references that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks during times of harvest. “During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86) frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices.”[2] So there is no actual date for the first inventor of ice cream, but there is the first time it was advertised in the New World.

“The first advertisement for ice cream in this country appeared in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777, when confectioner Philip Lenzi announced that ice cream was available “almost every day.” Records kept by a Chatham Street, New York, merchant show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790.”

It seems to be a highly desired treat through the centuries. The reason it has been desired for so long is that it cools off a person while giving them a fix for their sweet tooth. Although, ice cream was hard to obtain before the 1800s; one had to be wealthy or of high importance to obtain it. It was hard to maintain, because it had to be kept cold to keep its form.

Even though ice cream is a worldwide desired treat and has been since the days of the Romans, how did it become an industry in Savannah? Looking at the history of ice cream in Savannah, Leopold’s is the only one that has lasted for a long period of time. “Leopold’s Ice Cream was founded in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece: George, Peter, and Basil Leopold.”[3] The brothers learned the art of candy and dessert from their uncle who had already settled in America. They perfected secret formulas and created the world famous Leopold’s VeriBest ice cream. These brothers opened their own ice cream parlor on the corner of Gwinnett and Habersham streets in Savannah. Generations of the people in Savannah have fallen in love with Leopold’s ice cream. In the early years of Leopold’s, food was added and Savannah began enjoying hamburgers, baby clubs, and pimento cheese sandwiches from this fine establishment. This sweet shop did not stop there though; they also invested into the soda fountain business. People started to enjoy the new additions to the menu such as the fabulous malts, milk shakes, black and white sodas, banana splits and many more.

“The original Leopold’s Ice Cream shop closed in 1969. Stratton Leopold, the youngest child of Peter Leopold, kept many of the original fixtures in storage while he pursued his dreams of working in Hollywood.”[4] On August 18 of 2004, Stratton and his wife Mary officially reopened the legendary family business. The new location on downtown Savannah’s Broughton Street was designed by Academy Award nominated set designer Dan Lomino. The original fixtures Stratton had kept were used, including the black marble soda fountain and wooden interior phone booth. The shop has a beautiful old-fashioned flair with some modern decorative additions – posters and props from Stratton Leopold’s film career.

Once Leopold’s re-opened they began to do special holiday flavored ice cream. During the time of Christmas its Eggnog and Sugar Plum, while during October and November its pumpkin. They are constantly adding new items to the menu as well as coming up with new recipes. Leopold’s also takes suggestions for new flavors from customers, because Leopold’s is always interested in the feedback of its customers and the people in the community.

Stratton is actually a huge supporter of the local community in Savannah. He helps with the Lucas Theater and donates a part of his income to the city to help the people within it. Stratton is also friends with the musician Johnny Mercer. Mercer used to live a block away from Leopold’s while he was growing up in Savannah. With being so close to the shop he would constantly visit the establishment.

Johnny Mercer is best known as an American songwriter and singer. Mercer grew up in downtown Savannah just a block away from Leopold’s. He used to visit the shop almost every day. His favorite flavor of ice cream was “Tutti Fruiti”. Johnny enjoyed this ice cream so much he even wrote a song to commemorate it. Mercer wasn’t only a musician. He also dabbled into theater and Broadway shows. He started his entertainment career in New York in 1928 when he was the age of 19. As Mercer continued with his life slowly gaining fame and fortune he never forgot about his favorite little ice cream shop with his favorite ice cream. Mercer ended up meeting Stratton on one of his visits to the shop. Stratton was a young boy at the time, but Johnny had a lot of influence on him. This influence could have come from the fortune or fame, but it was there none the less. This could have been the reason Stratton wanted to be in the film industry.

Stratton started his film career in 1974 as a location casting director and location manager for low-budget movies. Leopold has now been in the movie industry for over 40 years. He has nearly 60 film and television credits to his name. He has ranged from executive producer, location manager, and even actor. Stratton’s film-making has taken him around the world, to countries that include the United States, Canada, England, Spain, Italy, Central America, the Philippines, Australia and China. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America and Producers Guild of America. Leopold’s prodigious film credits include movies like The Sum of All Fears, Mission: Impossible III, The General’s Daughter, and the re-make of The Wolfman.

When Leopold was younger his mother wouldn’t let him help with the soda fountain, because she was scared of him breaking glasses and cutting himself. When he became old enough he received his first paying job at his family’s establishment as an ice cream churn washer. He made 50 cents an hour to clean these five gallon drums. To do this Stratton used a long-handled brush. By working in the store, Leopold mentions that it brings you closer to the people. Just to talk and interact with the folks that come into the store would brighten his day. To hear their stories and travels would bring a smile to Stratton’s face. Some of these people’s stories gave Stratton ideas for movies and sets that helped him in Hollywood. Before going off to Hollywood, Stratton began his young adult life as a Pre-Med student at Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt Universities, but ultimately chose to follow his dreams and work his way into the film industry. In time he rose through the ranks and became a full-on producer and Vice President of Production at Paramount Pictures.

Even though Stratton is now a famous director that lives in Hollywood he never forgot his roots. Stratton continuously comes to Georgia to personally make sure his establishment is running efficiently and doing well for itself. He also enjoys giving a personal appearance, because he believes it is important that the customers get to know the owner of the business. Stratton is a business and family man. He likes to keep family traditions alive, but he also knows how to do so while running a business. Leopold has put his heart and soul into both his movies and his ice cream shop. Stratton re-opened the ice cream shop for his family while he started making movies for himself. He is constantly striving to keep his passions alive whether it be directing or simply making an ice cream cone for a customer.

Stratton strives for customer service. He is only happy with his industry when the customers are happy. Ice cream should bring a smile to a person’s face and if it doesn’t then there is a problem. When you taste something as sweet and delicious as Leopold’s ice cream you should be smiling on your way out of the shop. If a person is not then Stratton is not happy himself. He wants nothing more than his customers being excited and happy to walk into his place of business. This is why he continuously checks on his business and also wants new flavors of ice cream. Also, this is one of the main reasons he introduced more than ice cream on the menu. Leopold continuously wants his customer base to be happy and he wants to offer them what they desire at least to a certain extent, because if his customers are not happy how can his business prosper?

So why does Leopold’s Ice Cream shop do so well while other parlors have failed? It is that the owner has put his heart and soul into this business and he constantly works on making it prosper. Stratton will never stop supporting the community with his delicious ice cream as long as he can help it. Leopold has enjoyed every moment he has had in his shop other than when it was closed down by his father. Even then he primarily has a fond memory of this establishment and without him it would have never been re-opened for business. To keep this place alive and striving is a continuous dream for Stratton. He wants to continue this as a family establishment for as long as he can. Without this establishment Savannah would be losing some of its very own history. This parlor has been around longer than any of us have been alive. We had a few years without it, but ever since it re-opened I can’t tell you one person who hasn’t been there and not enjoyed it. Whether it is the food, deserts, or even the atmosphere and it has been a remarkable business in Savannah with a great family running it. Without Leopold’s Johnny Mercer would have never had made the Tutti Fruiti song and perhaps he might have never have been a famous musician. Leopold’s Ice Cream has had a bigger effect on Savannah than many have noticed, but once you start to picture Savannah without this little parlor it is almost impossible to do. With this restaurant being around for so long it is a harsh reality to notice this place was once closed down. Luckily as the people of Savannah, Stratton was there and was able to re-open his family business to please his customers. So the reason Leopold’s has been able to last for as long as it has is that Leopold’s is a well-known name of Savannah and when you think of Leopold’s one thinks  of it as a historical and fun atmosphere with great food and desert. There is nothing more one can ask of from this establishment other than, “When is the next new flavor coming out?”

 

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