Baskin, Burton & Robbins, Irvine

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Baskin, Burton & Robbins, Irvine

Baskin–Robbins Ice Cream


Baskin–Robbins is the world's largest ice cream specialty store, operating more than 5,000 retail stores in more than 50 countries around the globe. The founding of the company represents an all–American success story, and Baskin–Robbins ice cream has grown up with many families as an icon of Americana, just as much as Leave It to Beaver and Beatlemania. A trip to Baskin–Robbins was the perfect way to end the day. It still is, more than 50 years later.

Personal Life

Burton Baskin was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1913; his future brother–in–law, Irvine "Irv" Robbins, was born in Tacoma, Washington, four years later, in 1917. Their success story started during the depression years. As a teenager in the 1930s, Robbins managed a small ice cream parlor in his father's dairy store in Tacoma. He hated the drudgery of the "vanilla, chocolate, strawberry" routine, day after day and started staying up late at night concocting his own combinations by adding fresh fruit and candies to the standard flavors. Then he started giving exotic names to his concoctions. He also noticed that people entering the shop were coming not only for ice cream but also to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. That perception stayed with him and helped him formulate the type of ambiance he wanted to create for his own ice cream business in the future. Meanwhile, he tried out some of his newly created flavors in local grocery stores, hoping to eventually sell to them in bulk. However, other vendors regularly removed his signs, making his initial venture only moderately successful. Then World War II broke out and postponed his dream.

Career Details

On the other side of the world, Baskin had learned the art of making ice cream while serving as a PX operator with the U.S. Navy in New Hebredes, South Pacific. (PXs, or post exchanges, are military retail establishments.) At that time, Baskin had obtained a freezer from an aircraft carrier supply officer and began concocting his own creamy treats for his fellow servicemen, using local tropical fruits found on the islands. During World War II, he met and married Shirley Robbins, who happened to be Irv Robbins's sister. They settled in Pasadena, California, where Baskin opened his own ice cream shop called "Burton's," and was enjoying his own entrepreneurial success.

When Robbins was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945, he needed to consider whether an ice cream venture could support a wife and child. He had decided during his own military tour that offering his product through grocery retail stores was not really what he had envisioned in the long run. He remembered that people had come into his father's shop wanting more than just to purchase a product; rather, the ice cream shop itself appeared to be a treat for them, making them forget their daily cares. So he decided to open his own special parlor. During a vacation trip to Los Angeles, he spotted a store for rent in the suburb of Glendale. The setting appeared ideal for an ice cream shop. Robbins took $3000 savings and $3000 from an insurance policy to come up with the necessary $6000 investment. He named his new parlor "Snowbird" and opened for business on December 7, 1945. Sporting a crisp white uniform shirt and a colorful bow tie, he greeted excited customers and tempted them with his new dessert creations. Inside his shop, they could forget about the world outside and simply enjoy the moment's pleasure of an exotic ice cream flavor, often with a humorous name. Robbins eventually offered 21 different flavors to his clientele.

When the war ended, Robbins was about to open his fourth store. He was having so much fun and doing so well that he had convinced Baskin, now his brother–in–law, to join him in a partnership. They agreed, in theory, but continued running their respective shops separately for the first year on the advice of Robbins' father, who counseled them not to compromise their individual ideas out of respect for each other or in an effort to get along. Ultimately, the two men agreed to combine their talents and successes. They flipped a coin to see whose name would get top billing; Baskin won. "Baskin and Robbins" ice cream was born in 1946. In the next two years, the two entrepreneurs opened five additional ice cream stores in order to keep up with demand.

Initially, the men kept low expectations for themselves; after all, they were selling ice cream cones, not automobiles. "We just wanted to make $75 a week. And we wanted to enjoy ourselves doing it," Robbins is quoted as saying in Thaddeus Wawro's Radicals and Visionaries: Entrepreneurs who Revolutionized the 20th Century. "Of course, when we reached that goal, we upped it to $100, then $125 and so on."

Both men realized all too well the hard work and personal commitment needed to be successful. They also knew that the proper care needed to run a store required a manager who had a vested interest in the operation. Moreover, managing their six existing stores proved exhausting. It also removed them from their first love, which was creating new and fun ice cream flavors and catchy names for them. Thus, in 1948, they decided to license out the operations of future Baskin–Robbins stores, thereby creating the concept of "franchising" in the ice cream industry. (Their former malt–machine salesman, Ray Kroc, later applied this same strategy to his fast–food restaurant chain, McDonald's.)

Chronology: Burton Baskin and Irvine Robbins

1913: Baskin born in Chicago.

1917: Robbins born in Tacoma.

1945: Robbins opened "Snowbird" ice cream store.

1946: Baskin joined Robbins to form Baskin–Robbins.

1948: Baskin–Robbins created the industry's first franchise ice cream store.

1953: "31 Flavors" made its debut.

1967: Baskin died at age 54.

1973: J. Lyons & Co. of London purchased Baskin–Robbins.

1974: Baskin–Robbins went international.

1978: Robbins retired as chairman.

1986: Baskin–Robbins Incorporated was formed.

1996: Baskin–Robbins celebrated 50th anniversary.

Clearly, the signature selling point at Baskin–Robbins was the tempting array of ever–changing flavors of ice cream to choose from. In 1953 the big "31" sign made its debut at all Baskin–Robbins store. The two entrepreneurs chose that number to capitalize on the idea that customers could get a new flavor for every day of the month. Many of those flavors became classics, including "Pralines 'n Cream" and "Jamoca Almond Fudge" and the ever–popular "Rocky Road," with its chunks of nuts, marshmallow, and chocolate. There were a few failures along the way as well. For example, "Goody Goody Gumdrop" was recalled to avoid the potential of customers chipping their teeth on the frozen gumdrops.

In 1957, when the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team moved to Los Angeles, Baskin–Robbins was there to greet them with its specially made "Baseball Nut" flavor—complete with a raspberry for the umpire. This started a new, and important, selling trend for the company: acknowledging special events, times, or persons with an ice cream flavor. A few of the best–remembered ones include 1964's "Beatle Nut," singing the praises of Beatlemania, and 1965's "0031 Secret Bonded Flavor" for James Bond. Down the road, there would be 1968's "Here Comes the Fudge" as Americans tuned into television's Laugh–In and 1969's "Lunar Cheesecake" to commemorate Neil Armstrong's historic step on the moon.

The first Baskin–Robbins ice cream store outside of California opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1959. This was the beginning of what was to be a rapid–growth period for the next two decades. Unfortunately, however, Burt Baskins died unexpectedly eight years later at the age of 54. Meanwhile, John Robbins, Irv's only son and heir apparent, became a health food advocate and rejected both his father's product and his inheritance of the business. Father and son Robbins sank into an icy relationship that would last for years, and Baskin–Robbins was sold for an estimated $12 million (but officially an undisclosed amount) to United Fruit Company. At the time of the purchase in 1968, Baskin–Robbins controlled 476 outlets in 31 states and had 57 more stores under construction.

A few years later, in 1973, Baskin–Robbins was purchased by the London–based J. Lyons & Co., Ltd. Robbins, 55 years old at the time, stayed on as chairman of the board. During the 1970s, Baskin–Robbins experienced rapid domestic franchise growth, but in 1974 it began international expansion with the opening of its first store in Brussels, Belgium.

In 1976 Baskin–Robbins specialty stores around the country celebrated the chain's 31st birthday with special events and treats for their customers. Two years later, Irv Robbins retired as chairman, and another London entity, Allied Brewery, bought the company from J. Lyons.

Under its new owner, Baskin–Robbins Incorporated was formed in 1986 and then created two new subsidiaries, Baskin–Robbins USA Co. and Baskin–Robbins International. Although Dairy Foods magazine named Baskin–Robbins "Ice Cream Retailer of the Year" in 1987, and Irv Robbins received the International Franchise Association's Hall of Fame Award in 1988, the company had not done as well in the 1980s as it had previously. Baskin–Robbins' parlors became simply "dated" rather than "retro," while new upstarts like Ben & Jerry's and Haegen–Dazs began to tug at customers with a new super–fat creamy ice cream. However, Baskin–Robbins began to bounce back near the end of the 1990s, introducing an all–natural line of low–fat and non–fat frozen yogurts. In 1989 it became the first ice cream specialty store to introduce a no–sugar–added frozen dairy product. This was followed in 1991 with the introduction of the first fat–free frozen dairy dessert.

In 1993 Baskin–Robbins was named "America's Favorite Sweets Chain" for the tenth time in Restaurants and Institutions magazine's prestigious national survey. The following year, Baskin–Robbins' parent company, Allied Lyons, merged with Pedro Domecq to form Allied–Domecq PLC, one of the world's largest spirits and quick service restaurant companies. Baskin–Robbins thus acquired new corporate siblings as well: sister companies Dunkin' Donuts and Togo's.

Baskin–Robbins celebrated 50 years in business in 1996. Since that time, it has continued to create innovative flavor campaigns and add new products—not as easy as it once was. In 1997 the company added its ice cream "Smoothie" and in 2000 introduced the "Freeze Frame" cake program in which a favorite color or black and white photograph could be scanned and printed with edible ink and paper on the top of an ice cream cake.

In late 2000, the company launched a multi–million–dollar renovation project to give its parlors a new look. However, its greatest hope for the future appeared to be in overseas franchising, where Baskin–Robbins has remained an icon of Americana, particularly in areas such as Japan and Korea.

Anecdotally, the requirements for being considered for a Baskin–Robbins franchise store in 2001 included an investment of $179,000, a franchise fee of $30,000, a net worth of $300,000, and a cash liquidity of $200,000. U.S. franchises have dropped approximately 500 since 1997. Notwithstanding, U.S. stores serve approximately 150 million ice cream cones each year (not counting sundaes, shakes, smoothies, etc.). The company also boasts an archive list of 1,000 different ice cream flavors, but the top–selling flavors continue to be old standbys such as Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Pralines 'n Cream.

Social and Economic Impact

In his 1997 book, The Food Revolution, John Robbins remarked that he was "born into ice cream." He recalled growing up in affluence in the family's Encino, California, mansion. The back yard of the Robbins' home that he shared with two sisters and full–time homemaker mother, Irma, as well as his famous father, had an ice–cream–cone–shaped swimming pool. He remembered sometimes eating ice cream for breakfast. Sadly, he also remembered that several members of his family suffered with weight problems and were more often sick than not, including him. Uncle Burt (Baskin) had died of a heart attack in his early fifties (which John blamed at least in part on ice cream), and John's own father, Irvine, suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes. Back in 1968, "low–fat" ice cream was a nonentity; frozen yogurt was years away from development. It seemed the Great American Success Story of Baskin–Robbins had a downside.

But ingenuity and creativity came to the rescue—and prevailed. Staying one step ahead of health–conscious Americans, Baskin–Robbins was able to induce them to have their cake and eat it too: with nonfat, low–fat, non–dairy, no–sugar, and frozen yogurt products to satisfy every sweet tooth. And more recent studies have indicated that ice cream is fine—in moderation. In other words, eating it for breakfast is not recommended. Accordingly, today's customers may choose their ice cream desserts according to their own particular health needs or desires.

Irv Robbins once said, "You look at any giant corporation, and I mean the biggies, and they all started with a guy with an idea, doing it well." (He and his vegetarian son have since mended their relationship, and he often adopts his son's health alternatives and dietary advice.) John told a People magazine interviewer in 1997, "I think he's quite proud of me now. He said to me recently, 'Thank God, you had the courage to follow your own star.'"

Sources of Information

Contact at: Baskin–Robbins Ice Cream
14 Pacella Park Dr.
Randolph, MA 02368
Business Phone: (800)777–9983


"Baskin–Robbins." Available at

"Baskin–Robbins USA Co." Available at

Carlin, Peter Ames, and Johnny Dodd. "Quitting Cold." People, 25 August 1997.

Gajilan, Arlyn Thomas. "Burt and Irv's Place." FSB: Fortune Small Business, July/August 2000.

"Quotes on Ideas." Available from

Robbins, John. The Food Revolution. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001. Book review available from

"Saluting Franchising's Best and Brightest." Franchising World, January/February 2001.

"Side Dishes." Nation's Restaurant News, 12 May 1997.

Wawro, Thaddeus. Radicals and Visionaries: Entrepreneurs Who Revolutionized the 20th Century. Irvine: Entrepreneur Media, 2000.