Originally published in the Anchorage Press.
Tastee Freez turns 60 this year, and the only franchise in Alaska is celebrating by offering ice cream cones at their original 1958 price: 15 cents. Customers are allowed as many vanilla or chocolate cones as they’d like on May 5, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. The celebration will also includes face painting, door prizes, kid-friendly games, an ice cream eating contest, a magician and more.
“We can’t do the whole menu in 1958 prices, but we’re going to do 15 cent ice cream cones all day,” Rich Owens, the owner of Tastee Freez, said.
Owens said he’s excited about the celebration. He said they celebrated the 50th anniversary, but that the franchise felt especially proud to reach 60 years.
“We’re the oldest franchised restaurant in the state,” Owens said.
In the 1950s, Anchorage banker John Urban bought the first franchise as a gift for his mother. In 1962 the shop was sold to the Cluff family, who ran it from 1962-1994.
Although Owens is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the franchise, there’s a small chance that the franchise may have opened up sooner. Owens said a fire at the Tastee Freez headquarters in the 60s and 70s, resulted in the loss of records and files, including records of Alaska franchises.
“The reason we’re using 1958 as the origins for this one, because when I talked to [corporate] years ago, they said ‘well, we show that your franchise is paying royalties and franchise fees from 1958.’ It could have been earlier than that, but all that information is gone,” Owens said.
After finishing a job on the Slope, Rich Owens purchased the ice cream shop in 1994. He met with the owner to talk about a property he was interested in in Seward, two weeks later it was a done deal, and he was the new owner of the Tastee Freez.
Growing up in the 1950s Montana, Owens felt nostalgic for his memories of the American ice cream stand.
“We always went by Tastee Freeze on the way to the drive-in theatre. The only hot food was a hot dog, no hamburgers, only hot dogs and ice cream. So I grew up with it in Montana. I have fond memories of it from when I was a little kid.” Owens said. “Everything fell together and it was kind of just meant to be.”
Owens helped build the restaurant into the largest Tastee Freez in the country, with indoor seating for 85 and outdoor seating for 65.
Owens’ franchise opened on Northern Lights Boulevard.
“The original building was not insulated and it didn’t have inside seating. So when they were running it as a year round operation… [the employees] were wearing parkas and bunny boots inside the restaurant,” Owens said.
It wasn’t the only one in Alaska back then though. There were franchises in Government Hill, in the JC Penny building before the earthquake, on Gambell and 15th Avenue, Eagle River, Valdez and even Glennallen. Owens said that it was an affordable franchise to open up in Alaska during the 50s and 60s.
In the late 50s, Joan Stoops worked at the Tastee Freez on Gambell Street in Anchorage, where she only made 85 cents an hour.
“I loved it! It was my first job out of high school,” Stoops said.
Owens said that the party on May 5 isn’t just to celebrate the longevity of his franchise. It’s a way for Owens to give back to the community that helped the business stay afloat after a sharp decline in business following the movement of the Air National Guard from Kulis Air National Guard Base to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.
“That was a big hit to us. It was 15 to 20 percent of our business… was there on Friday and it was gone on Monday,” Owens said. “The neighborhood kind of rallied around and helped us maintain and stay alive, and business is slowly growing back from that. This is kind of a way to give back.”
Owens has a 15 year partnership with the Alaska National Guard where they help to deliver ice cream sundaes to over 60 villages across Alaska during the winter holiday season. Owens is also a mentor through Anchorage School Business Partnerships and provides employment to many local teenagers.
The celebrations will kick off on May 5, at 11 a.m. with 15 cent ice cream cones available all day. Since it will also be Cinco de Mayo, Tastee Freez will also be selling fried burritos from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., tacos from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and nachos from 3 p.m.-5 p.m., all for a commemorative 60 cents.
Owens also said that there will be 60th anniversary specials throughout the summer, until August.