What kid doesn’t love Friendly’s? If you grew up on the East Coast, you most likely have fond memories of this popular regional chain. But there’s a lot more to Friendly’s than ice cream; here are 10 things you didn’t know about it.
Friendly’s got its start back in 1935, when brothers Curtis and Prestley Blake opened the first location, which they dubbed simply “Friendly,” in Springfield, Massachusetts. The no-frills ice cream shop sold double-dip cones for five cents, and when a second location opened five years later in West Springfield, burgers and other fast food items were added to the menu. The business shut down during World War II in order to join the war effort, but it came back strong, with 10 locations in business by 1951 (the same year they began selling half-gallons of ice cream to take home). By the time the Blake brothers sold the company and retired in 1979, there were more than 600 locations in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. Today, 260 locations are in operation.
The company has gone through a handful of owners since then (including some time as a publicly-traded company), and today it’s owned by Sun Capital Partners, which also owns Boston Market and Smokey Bones. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011 and closing 63 locations, the chain has been trying to lure back customers by renovating its restaurants, adding retro signage, favoring fresh burger patties instead of frozen, increasing portion sizes, bringing back its fried chicken dinner, and most importantly, switching back to real ice cream in its milkshakes instead of soft serve. And just last week, the company sold off its retail ice cream and manufacturing business (which has seen 105 percent growth in the past five years) for $155 million to Dean Foods.
Like many “family restaurant” chains, Friendly’s may be going through a rough patch, thanks to the recession, an aging demographic, and several other variables including trying out too many different concepts (a plan to serve beer and wine was quickly abandoned). But above it all, some things remain certain: People know Friendly’s, they have happy memories there, and they want it to bounce back stronger than ever.