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 that ranged 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
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 storeowners 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