We’ve survived the Ides of March, and the luck of Irish is a mere hours away. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be rolling and every Irish pub throughout the five boroughs will be pouring out whiskey and Guinness.
You still could have a huge gap in your celebrations. Have you arranged for your cake to arrive from outer space?
Back in the 1980s, ice cream franchise king Tom Carvel announced what he hoped would be another flourishing Carvel Ice Cream cake product. The cake’s name, you ask?
And here’s how it got started.
Flying Saucers on the East Coast
Although franchises can now be found all over the world, Carvel got its start on the East Coast — specifically, Hartsdale, New York in Westchester County. That’s where Tom Carvel’s ice cream truck got a flat tire during the scorching summer of 1934. The founder ran into a nearby pottery shop to borrow some electricity so he wouldn’t lose the half-melted ice cream in his truck.
Accidents can indeed be happy, as was very much the case when customers loved Carvel’s sun-softened custard. He would soon name this soft-serve, and his confectionary empire would take off. (Into outer space, Carvel would say.)
Many in the business world credit Carvel for creating the concept of “franchise” — however, that soft ice cream he peddled always seemed to be a mixture of myth and fact. As Carvel would tell it, McDonald’s took clauses from his franchise contracts to use as they opened throughout the country and then internationally.
Carvel franchises began flourishing in the 1940s. The founder converted a Yonkers motel into the Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge (sometimes called “Sundae School”) where prospective franchise owners had to learn the techniques of the self-proclaimed “Custard King.”
When Carvel celebrated its 100th franchise opening in 1951, we learned the founder had a thing for outer space. That’s when he introduced the Flying Saucer cookie wafer, which would later become the eyes of Cookie Puss and Cookie O’Puss.
Relationships between the founder and franchise owners were rather strained. Carvel had “gained a reputation as a tough businessman who rode herd on his franchisees, refusing to let them start dealer organizations and forcing them to buy everything from cones to napkins from Carvel at prices they considered inflated,” wrote the The New York Times.
A group of franchisees who filed a 1979 lawsuit against Carvel lost out, and had to pay over $10 million back to the company for “provoking litigation.”
Butchered Diction And Successful Commercials
Tom Carvel’s voice contributed to exceedingly strange commercial advertisements during the 1970s and 1980s. While there wasn’t anything particularly innovative about having the franchise owner function as the voice of their product, the gravelly grandpa voice which rendered phonemes almost unrecognizable made many fans rush to the television to see and listen to it all. His voice was a significant topic in his New York Times obituary:
“Critics said he butchered diction and syntax and turned a 60-second commercial into a miniature comedy of errors that drove elocution teachers to distraction. But the commercials, which he narrated without a script and never edited for flubs, sold ice cream like no other tool.”
And yet, his voice wasn’t the only oddity. His commercials would employ talking cakes with alien voices mixed with a 1950s wholesomeness that was singular in its execution. Search for “Carvel Ice Cream” or their product names on YouTube, and you will find an impressive selection.
“Hello man, you got Cookypuss’ number?”
Carvel’s ice cream cakes were a hit, and have become a go-to for nostalgia humor. But these products sold. Most East Coasters who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will wax amusingly poetic about Fudgie the Whale, Hug Me The Bear … and Cookie Puss, who started showing up in franchise stores during 1972.
The regional commercials had a decidedly low-fi quality which would be aired on late-night television. Carvel refused to hire an ad agency. Matthew Cramer wrote that, “Cookie Puss, an ice-cream cake come to life, was the embodiment of the brand’s low-budget, home-brewed ad approach — appalling by just about any aesthetic measure yet incredibly memorable if not straight-up haunting and psyche-scarring.”
The creation of Cookie Puss is, like other Carvel stories, a custard mix of myth and fact. Very few cakes have this much of a back story.
Carvel claims that Cookie Puss originated in outer space and is a cake alien that came down to Earth to please ice cream eaters of all ages. Carvel told Gothamist that he was originally named “Celestial Person” but changed the “C.P.” to Cookie Puss, who also “resides on Planet Birthday, and is ‘known throughout the galaxy for his fun and quirky personality. Mr. Puss never sours and always brings a smile to the boys and girls of Planet Earth.'”
His Irish friend, Cookie O’Puss, started showing up in the 1980s for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.
In addition, Cookie Puss became a music legend, thanks to the 1983 Beastie Boys’ track featuring band member Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz making crank calls to Carvel stores in the 1980s. Their song and 4-track EP is spelled “Cooky Puss.”
“‘Cooky Puss’ wasn’t a song we really could replicate live,” said Ad-Rock. “It was a bunch of segments of stuff that we’d played, like, chopped up, and the phone call. But that started getting played in clubs, and all of a sudden we got asked to do shows in places we’d never been.”
Lyrics from “Cooky Puss”:
“May I help you?”
“Yes what’s your name?”
“Hello man you got Cookypuss’s number?”
“Here’s my supervisor, he’ll help you.”
“Yo man, where’s the supervisor at?
I-I got the number anyway baby!
According to Mental Floss, “one unconfirmed urban legend says Carvel was so annoyed by the album that he was considering legal action before his nephew, a Beasties fan, talked him down.”
Yet another rumor says that franchise workers created Cookie Puss to resemble the company’s founder.
“You know, that’s Cookie Puss, but he’s dressed up like an Irishman.”
On an icy, post-Nor’easter-that-could-have-been-far-worse day, we stopped into a Carvel location in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood. It was time to check out the 2017 Cookie O’Puss.
Mi, who was behind the counter, told us we needed to give the store at least 24 hours notice if we wanted to take home a Cookie O’Puss on St. Patrick’s Day.
“We only have one Cookie Puss in stock, but we can change its colors and add the hat,” she says.
But it’ll cost you. Expect to spend $29.99 for the creamy, crunchy Irish alien from Planet Birthday.
“We can make the nose any flavor you like, but it really should be chocolate chip mint,” Mi adds. “Or plain mint. You can also just use plain mint.”
Sláinte, my friends. Just leave me at least one of the eyes. They’re the best part.