Fudgie the Whale has been sighted in Tucson. He’s swimming in the confectionary “waters” off Silverbell Road – along with Cookie Puss, the Flying Saucer and other members of the Carvel ice cream family.
Kelly Henderson runs Tucson’s only Carvel franchise, at West Speedway Boulevard and North Silverbell Road. Last year, she saw an ad for a soft ice cream franchise for sale. When she learned it was a Carvel store, she and her family went to try the ice cream, for the first time ever.
“Once I tasted the soft-serve,” Henderson told me, “it was heaven.”
Of course it was heaven, Kelly. It was Carvel.
To we transplanted northeasterners, “Carvel” isn’t simply the name of a soft ice cream franchise. It’s a synonym for “fabulous.”
Started by Tom Carvel during the Great Depression, Carvel ice cream became a staple treat for kids of all ages throughout New York and New Jersey.
A large part of the Carvel mystique came from Tom Carvel himself. The franchise’s founder starred in many of Carvel’s advertisements. Northeasterners remember Carvel’s gravelly voice and quirky television spots as fondly as his ice cream.
Every day, Henderson and her staff make hard and soft ice cream products that go into cones, Flying Saucer ice cream sandwiches and the franchise’s signature ice cream cakes – of which Fudgie The Whale is the most famous.
While you can buy Carvel ice cream cakes in supermarkets, their taste and quality pale in comparison to a freshly made cake.
Most days, you’ll see Henderson behind the counter. A graduate of Carvel’s “College of Ice Cream Knowledge” (otherwise known as “Sundae School”), she’ll gladly tell you the difference between “ice cream” and “ice milk,” or some other soft-serve factoid.
My father’s family hails from Long Island and my wife’s from the outskirts of New York City. For me, no trip to New York has ever been complete without at least one Carvel visit, for a heavy dose of the sweetest, richest soft ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
Once, I even found a Carvel aficionado in Germany.
While in the Army, I struck up a conversation with a colleague during a live-fire exercise. When he mentioned he was from New York, I told him of my fond memories of Carvel. I’d lit a spark. He’d worked in a Carvel store during high school.
While cannons boomed in the background, he animatedly told me how Carvel’s high-fat and low-air contents made it stand out from other soft-serve ice creams.
Henderson hears the same enthusiasm in the stories her customers tell her.
“Pretty much all of the East Coasters, when they come in, it’s like they’re children again,” she said. Several customers have said Fudgie the Whale was a fixture at all their childhood birthday parties.
Henderson can tell Carvel novices from enthusiasts by the ice cream they order. Many Tucsonans, unaware of what they’re missing, order traditional hard-serve ice cream. The Carvelaholics, though, go directly for the soft-serve – with plenty of rainbow sprinkles or chocolate crunchies.
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And, with that, my year as a “My Tucson” columnist ends. It’s been a wonderful experience. Thanks to Billie Stanton and Mark Kimble for this opportunity.
I’m retired Army. However, the most graceful farewell I know comes from my Navy colleagues. I doubt they’ll mind if I use it here.
Tucsonans, I bid you all fair winds and following seas.
Don Smith is a retired Army Reservist and military intelligence specialist who currently works as a defense contractor at Fort Huachuca. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org