Fosselman's Turns 100 — And Plans A New Ice Cream Shop In Glendora
Everything old is new again. In the midst of an ice cream renaissance with posh scooperies opening in neighborhood after neighborhood, we're about to get more sweetness. Sometime this fall, the unremarkably named The Ice Cream Shop will open in downtown Glendora but unlike many upstarts, this ice creamery has a pedigree.
Its owner, Mike Fosselman, is a member of the family that founded and still runs Fosselman's Ice Cream, an Alhambra-based company that has been supplying patrons with delicious frozen flavors since 1919. The Ice Cream Shop promises to be a sleeker, trendier extension of the brand, serving the same ice cream that has made the family famous.
2019 has been a big year for Fosselman's. To celebrate their centennial, Mike's brothers, Chris and John, who co-own the company, decided to redecorate their flagship store with archival family photos. While most new ice cream shops feature white brick walls and bright poppy colors for maximum 'grammability, Fosselman's has doubled down in its small town, old timey aesthetic. It seems to be working. On a recent summer day, the shop on Main St. in Alhambra, was packed as people dug into sundaes topped with nuts and cones dripping with butterscotch.
"My dad's big saying was 'Make it so good they can't resist it,'" John Fosselman says. For a century, the business has been doing just that.
EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAE
Fosselman's Ice Cream Company started thousands of miles away, in Waverly, Iowa, thanks to Christian Anthony Fosselman, John's grandfather.
"The family business prior to that was beer, the brewery business, in the late 1800s," John says. Long before Prohibition became law in the United States, Iowa enacted its own Prohibition in 1916.
"Around 1910, they had to figure out what to do with the beer bottling equipment. They went into making soda pop — sarsaparilla and things like that," according to John.
The business was a success and Christian attempted to stay on the cutting edge of the bottling industry.
"My grandfather came out to California to a bottling convention to look at equipment. The newest rage was mechanized ice cream manufacturing equipment. He was intrigued by it. He bought a machine, brought it back to Iowa and started making ice cream in addition to soda pop."
Christian also liked what he saw of sunny California.
In 1921, he moved his family to Pasadena and set up Fosselman's Creamery, which delivered wholesale ice cream and milk to businesses and private homes. In 1937, Christian opened his first shop in Pasadena. Four years later, in 1941, he opened the Alhambra store and manufacturing plant at its current location. The business would eventually expand to four shops, adding outposts in Highland Park and South Pasadena.
After taking over the business, Christian's three sons — Bob, Jim and Bill — focused on the retail side and helped expand into food service while moving away from the wholesale business. With this, they mostly stepped away from supplying milk and ice cream to individuals and businesses to focus on their stand-alone stores.
Working at one of the family shops was a rite of passage for all the Fosselman kids as they entered their teenage years. "You're a pretty popular kid at school when your family makes ice cream," John says.
Mike Fosselman agrees.
"It was cool because a lot of our friends, and a lot of family, enjoyed coming down to the shop. We'd show them around and were always very proud of it. In elementary school, we used to do field trips and stuff down there. My dad and uncles would make ice cream and give out samples to the kids. It was just a lot of fun," he says.
As the new generation grew into adulthood, Fosselman aged and shrunk to its Alhambra location.
In 1989, when they were 20 and 23, respectively, Chris and John bought out their two uncles. A few years later, they bought out their father, Bob. They were determined to reinvigorate the brand and get the business back into the wholesale and distribution game.
"We jumped into it headfirst," John says. "We had a mission, which was to build the business back up and make it profitable and expand it."
Over the next few years, John and Chris refocused their attention on developing a streamlined wholesaling and distribution network, which now supplies hundreds of local businesses with ice cream. While preserving the Alhambra shop's retro appeal, they began to focus on serving the diversifying population in San Gabriel Valley with new flavors their father and uncles couldn't have imagined.
THE INSIDE SCOOP
Many things at Fosselman's have changed over the past three decades but the most important elements have stayed the same, like the ice cream mix that serves as the base for all Fosselman's flavors.
"The formula is the exact same as it has been for 100 years. We haven't changed that at all," John says.
They also use top quality milk and cream for all their ice creams.
"All of our stuff is considered super premium, which is a high butterfat, 16%, and low overrun, which means we put less air in our product than most standard ice creams," John says.
Classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, English toffee, rum raisin and peppermint are still available. But as the demographics of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley have shifted, the brothers have embraced new tastes.
"I think our flavors reflect the diversity of L.A.," John says. "We do Oaxacan chocolate. We do dulce de leche. We do chamango, which is a mango sorbet that has chamoy, a spicy sauce that you have at fruit stands, and Tajín, a spicy, peppery, salty condiment. We have a huge Asian population in the San Gabriel Valley, so we do taro root, red bean, lychee, macapuno and all these different flavors." The macapuno, a sweet coconut flavor popular in the Philippines, is a favorite.
All these flavors, and many others, mix it up in Fosselman's historic, low-slung brick building in downtown Alhambra.
"It's not a big building but we are incredibly efficient," John says. "All of our wholesale accounts, everything, is made on demand. We make it, we freeze it overnight — it takes about eight hours to freeze solid — and then we ship it out the following day." That's partly design and partly necessity. Fosselman's doesn't add any preservatives to its ice cream and they don't have the space to store much product on site.
Out of the pint-size plant behind the Alhambra shop, the brothers, along with a small group of dedicated employees, manufacture custom ice cream flavors that they distribute to more than 600 clients around Southern California.
"We sell to Chinese restaurants, Latin restaurants, Filipino restaurants, you name it. We also sell to independent ice cream stores, movie studios, fine dining [restaurants]. We're all over the board," John says.
Many employees have worked at Fosselman's for decades, a tribute to the chill vibe at the company. "We're making ice cream. It's not rocket science. We try to keep it as light as we can," John says. "We teach all of our employees that you don't cut corners, you don't cheat people. Make it right and give them a fair price and they're going to be customers for life."
Fosselman's has plenty of cradle-to-grave customers.
"We gauge how old we're getting when we see these kids that used to come in with their parents as infants and now bringing in their kids," John says.
CHERRY ON TOP
John's brother, Mike, the middle child of the family, wants to create a new intergenerational destination in his hometown, Glendora. He spent decades working in corporate America then, after a health scare, decided to return to the family business.
"I was the executive for a big distribution company for 25 years and a year ago, I had heart surgery," Mike says. "I was traveling a lot, on the road all the time. I decided life was too short."
At the Ice Cream Shop, Mike and his wife, Katy, will feature Fosselman's ice cream but with a different spin. Since the store's design and decor will have a sleeker, more modern vibe, Mike chose to give the shop a different name.
"On the food side we're going to try some different things that John and Chris haven't done," Mike says. "We will have fresh waffle cones and we're going to do taco Tuesday, which will be waffle tacos and ice cream. There will be different specialty items and random one-off stuff."
They also hope to bring the famous Fosselman's family atmosphere to downtown Glendora. Mike hopes that customers of nearby restaurants, like brewpub T. Phillips, will grab dessert at his store.
The Fosselman family is not only supplying the ice cream, they're also providing moral support. "They're right in downtown, they've got a great location," John says. "I think it should be a hit."
Editor's Note: The name "Katy" was originally misspelled. It has been corrected.