Irvine Robbins, co-founder of Baskin-Robbins whose penchant for creating unusual ice-cream flavors helped push the nation far beyond its...
LOS ANGELES — Irvine Robbins, co-founder of Baskin-Robbins whose penchant for creating unusual ice-cream flavors helped push the nation far beyond its chocolate-vanilla-strawberry tastes, has died. He was 90.
Mr. Robbins died Monday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said his daughter Marsha Veit.
With his brother-in-law and partner, Burton Baskin, Mr. Robbins displayed a keen sense of fun and a flair for marketing that helped turn some of their frozen treats into cultural touchstones.
When the Dodgers went to Los Angeles in 1958, they were greeted with Baseball Nut, complete with raspberries for the umpires. Lunar Cheesecake was launched the day after man landed on the moon in 1969. At the height of Beatlemania in 1964, a reporter asked Mr. Robbins what flavor would salute the Fab Four; Baskin-Robbins had yet to invent one, but Mr. Robbins replied, “Uh, Beatle Nut, of course” and had it in stores in five days.
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While the company advertised that it offered 31 flavors, it has created more than 1,000 flavors, according to its Web site.
Mr. Robbins delighted in inventing flavors and naming them, including Plum Nuts (plums, vanilla and walnuts), ChaChaCha (cherry chocolate chip), or his favorite, Jamoca Almond Fudge. By the time he retired in 1978, the company was selling some 20 million gallons of ice cream a year in more than 2,000 stores around the world.
The son of a dairyman, Mr. Robbins grew up scooping cones in his family’s Tacoma ice-cream store. After getting out of the Army in 1945, he opened the Snowbird Ice Cream store in Glendale, Calif. Cashing in an insurance policy his father had given him for his bar mitzvah, he came up with $6,000 to start the business.
Baskin, who was married to Mr. Robbins’ sister Shirley, also had recently returned from serving in World War II. In early 1946, he opened Burton’s Ice Cream in Pasadena.
By 1948, the five Snowbird and three Burton’s shops had been combined into a single enterprise, and they had devised their 31st flavor: Chocolate Mint. The new partners realized they were too busy to give the stores the attention they needed to succeed.
“That’s when we hit on selling our stores to our managers,” Robbins said in a 1985 Los Angeles Times story. “Without realizing it at the time, we were in the franchise business before the word ‘franchise’ was fashionable.”
In 1953, they renamed the company Baskin-Robbins, deciding the order of their names with a coin toss. The “31 flavors” concept was introduced the same year to bring attention to a menu that featured a flavor for every day of the month.
At a factory in Burbank, they made hundreds of new ice creams a year but only eight or nine would make it to market.
Among the flavors that never left the laboratory: Ketchup, Lox and Bagels and Grape Britain.
Baskin-Robbins had 43 stores by the end of 1949, more than 100 by 1960 and about 500 when the ice-cream empire was sold to United Fruit for an estimated $12 million in 1967. Six months later, Baskin died of a heart attack at 54. Today, Baskin-Robbins is part of Dunkin’ Brands and has more than 5,800 franchises worldwide.
Mr. Robbins was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and as a boy, moved with his family to Tacoma. In 1939, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington.
In addition to daughter Martha Veit, survivors include his wife, Irma; another daughter, Erin Robbins; a son, John Robbins; and two sisters, Shirley Familian and Elka Weiner.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.