Offbeat L.A.: A Cherry on Top – Fosters Freeze, the History of California’s Original Soft Serve

This Fosters Freeze, in Bell Gardens, opened in 1964

This Fosters Freeze, in Bell Gardens, opened in 1964 (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Fosters Freeze in Burbank on S. Glenoaks Ave, was store #26, built in 1947 (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Fosters Freeze in Burbank on S. Glenoaks Ave, was store #26, built in 1947 (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

I scream, you scream, we all scream for… Soft Serve! Perhaps the words don’t roll off the tongue as romantically as ice cream, the much denser, higher milk-fat frozen treat that we all love and adore, but Soft Serve conjures up lazy days in the hot summer sun, road side stops with the parents after a day at the beach, dusty county fairs and, well, magic. Here in California, since 1946, many of those idyllic magical spells were cast by a local Fosters Freeze. These little huts instantly bring memories of fun, freedom, smiles and sticky fingers to the last few generations. The little shoe box stands with plastic sliding take-out windows, concrete picnic tables and signs featuring a smiling ice cream cone, named Little Foster, are now decidedly vintage. Though 85 locations still remain, a sliver of their original number, these Mom & Pop franchises are slowly disappearing as Los Angeles gets more corporate and homogenized.

This 1957-built Fosters Freeze in Hawthone was a hangout of the young Beach Boys, and referred to in their song, "Fun, Fun Fun" (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

This 1957-built Fosters Freeze in Hawthorne was a hangout of the early Beach Boys, and referred to in their song, “Fun, Fun Fun” (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The idea of a softer, lighter, air-whipped version of ice cream is said to have been invented in New York State by Tom Carvel, founder of Carvel Ice Cream, home to the infamous Cookie Puss. Apparently Tom Carvel’s original ice cream truck broke down on a hot day in 1934, causing him to sell half-frozen ice cream to passersby. His melting ice cream was such a hit, that a light bulb went off and Tom invented and patented the first Soft Serve machine, to use in his brick and mortar store which he opened in 1936. Dairy Queen invented their own machine in 1938 out of Illinois, possibly unaware of Carvel’s version. They began serving it in their stores in 1940. The difference between Soft Serve and regular ice cream is mainly two things: a lower fat content (generally 3-6%, versus ice cream’s 10-18%) and a higher air content. The air content is tricky, because with not enough air, Soft Serve becomes icy and dense; with too much air the Soft Serve loses flavor and melts too quickly. Most manufacturers aim for between 33-45% of volume.

The very first Fosters Freeze opened in 1946 on La Brea Ave in Inglewood. That location is still in operation today (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The very first Fosters Freeze opened in 1946 on La Brea Ave in Inglewood. That location is still in operation today (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

After World War II, entrepreneur George Foster was searching for the perfect business opportunity. As an investment he purchased development rights for the whole state of California from the Dairy Queen company. He originally intended to use their name and set up a series of franchises out west. When he arrived in California, he learned that the dairy industry here had enacted strict laws controlling the use of the word Dairy. Because of this, he was forbidden to use the Dairy Queen name and decided to call his new business Foster’s Freeze instead. (The apostrophe was later dropped.) His first location was opened on October 30, 1946 at 999 S. La Brea Ave in Inglewood, still in business today. Following that, George was extremely quick in opening new stores all over the state, which were run as franchises. Many of the locations now serve hamburgers and french fries as well, but their main staple was always Soft Serve, whether in cones, dishes, sundaes or shakes. By 1951, George had franchised out 360 Foster Freezes across the state of California. All of the locations, up until that time, used Soft Serve mix made by Compton Dairy. In 1951, George Foster decided to leave the Soft Serve world behind and sold control of his franchises for $1 million dollars to the Meyenberg Milk Products Company, who used their own milk products for the franchises, rather than Compton Dairy’s.

Four surviving locations that used the ice cream in a cup logo. Clockwise from top left: 1) Cravens Ave, Torrance. Opened 1947. Store #23. 2) Fletcher Drive In Atwater Village, built 1949, Store #107. 3) Whittier Blvd in Boyle Heights. Built 1948. 4) Maclay Ave in San Fernando, CA. Built 1948, Store #21.

Four surviving locations that used the “ice cream in a cup” logo. Clockwise from top left: 1) Cravens Ave, Torrance. Opened 1947.  2) Fletcher Drive In Atwater Village. Built 1949.  3) Whittier Blvd in Boyle Heights. Built 1948. 4) Maclay Ave in San Fernando, CA. Built 1948. (photos by Nikki Kreuzer)

The ownership of the Fosters Freeze company has changed many times over the decades and now has headquarters located in the San Bernardino city of Rancho Cucamonga. Eighty-five of the original stores remain and can be found listed on the Fosters Freeze website. Several of the surviving locations have interesting pop culture connections. The Atwater Village Fosters Freeze was used as a location in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction,” while the Hawthorne restaurant was a place where local band The Beach Boys used to hang out. The line about cruising through the hamburger stand in the Beach Boys song “Fun, Fun, Fun” is said to be about this Hawthorne location. In 1994, the EL Pollo Loco chain began serving Fosters Freeze in 163 of their restaurants, adding to its availability. But no matter where else it is being served, going to one of the original vintage Fosters Freeze locations adds to the magic.

This Fosters Freeze on Carson Street in Carson was built in 1959. The eating area is a mid-century rainbow of tables. (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

This Fosters Freeze on Carson Street in Carson was built in 1959. The eating area is a mid-century rainbow of tables (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Four locations with Little Foster on the sign: 1) Carson Fosters Freeze, built 1959. 2) Eagle Rock Fosters Freeze, built 1962. 3) Bell Gardens Fosters Freeze, built 1964. 4) The original Fosters Freeze, built in 1946 in Inglewood has this sign, built in the late '50s or early '60s. (photos by Nikki Kreuzer)

Four locations with Little Foster on the sign: 1) Carson Fosters Freeze, built 1959. 2) Eagle Rock Fosters Freeze, built 1962. 3) Bell Gardens Fosters Freeze, built 1964. 4) The original Fosters Freeze, built in 1946 in Inglewood, has this sign added in the late ’50s or early ’60s. (photos by Nikki Kreuzer)

This Burbank Fosters Freeze, built in 1947, has a third variety of sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

This Burbank Fosters Freeze, built in 1947, has a third variety of sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

 

Nikki Kreuzer

About Nikki Kreuzer

Nikki Kreuzer has been a Los Angeles resident for more than half of her life. When not working her day job in the film & TV industry, she spends her time over many obsessions, mainly music, art and exploring & photographing the oddities of the city she adores. So far she has written 100 Offbeat L.A. articles which are published at the Los Angeles Beat and on the website OffbeatLA.com. As a writer she has also been published in the LA Weekly, Oddee.com, Twist Magazine, Strobe and Not For Hire. Nikki is also a mosaic artist, working actor and published photographer. Her photography has been featured in the print version of LA Weekly and as part of an exhibit at the Museum of Neon Art. In the band Nikki & Candy, she plays bass, sings and is co-writer. Find Nikki & Candy music on iTunes, Amazon or at NikkiandCandy.com. Nikki is currently working on her first novel. Please "like" the Offbeat L.A. Facebook page! For more Offbeat L.A. photos & adventures follow @Lunabeat on Instagram or @Offbeat_LA on Twitter.
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4 Responses to Offbeat L.A.: A Cherry on Top – Fosters Freeze, the History of California’s Original Soft Serve

  1. Ivor Levene ilevene says:

    Great article, and just in time for the dog days of summer!

  2. Very nice. We always talk about going to the one in Atwater but then get caught up in something else. I can’t eat soft serve at Disneyland because something in it gives me cramps and diarrhea almost immediately. Not so with Cub and probably not at Fosters. I prefer the old style Little Foster because he had one tooth.

  3. sandy says:

    loved this article. My family went into the Foster Freeze business in 1959. My grandfather opened the Foster Freeze in Carson California. My dad owned the one in Gardena, Glendale and Bellflower Ca. I worked many years in lots of different Foster Freeze stores. Worked with a lot of nice people and waited on a lot of nice customers. I am retired now. I miss working at the freeze and all of my favorite customers. Sure enjoyed this article .

  4. Ethel N Williams says:

    My Father -in law had the freeze on Carson street in carson cal..When he passed away my husband ran it with his mom. all my children worked there.

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