The ice cream king and entrepreneur Irvine Robbins died earlier this week and I couldn't help but be sad a bit. I have fond memories of making trips to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop in Queens, N.Y., with my dad and ordering Pink Bubblegum ice cream.
Oh man, was that delicious. Well, delicious to a kid I suppose, among the many other flavors that ended up in that frosty ice cream case. Endless flavors were part of my reality as a kid. I couldn't imagine how boring my parents' childhoods must have been with just vanilla and chocolate.
Indeed, Robbins took some credit for opening up our horizons to wild flavors. He said as much in a New York Times article from 1976: "I think we've had a little bit to do with making it more acceptable."
Which brings me to bacon ice cream.
I colleague of mine, Patricia Talorico, who writes a food blog tipped me off about this culinary insanity when she came across it in a Delaware resort town Rehoboth Beach.
I thought, "is this just a small business owner with a gimmick trying to get people in the door, or are they serious?"
It's a little bit of both, says Chip Hearn, the guy that owns The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth that makes the pig-inspired ice cream.
"I'm in a beach resort town and there are 57 million other ice creams stores here so I have to differentiate myself," he explains.
The concept behind the store, he says, is to allow customers to taste all the different strange flavors they offer. "People who come in say, "I brought my friend to taste your bacon ice cream" and they try the bacon ice cream but end up buying African vanilla. Do I sell a lot of bacon cones? No. Do I have people that taste a ton of bacon? Yes."
He's brilliant. I would bring my friends in to try the bacon.
So are gimmicks always a good idea?
"It's a great question," says David Vinjamuri, author of "Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands" and an adjunct instructor of marketing at New York University.
"When an entrepreneur uses stunts to draw attention to the brand, it's fine as long as it fits the essence of the brand," he says. "Baskin-Robbins was always experimental, always pushing the envelope."
It's fine to attract attention, he adds, but the gimmicks should seem natural to the brand.
"A good example is Wal-Mart's attempted entry into fashion. When Wal-Mart held a runway show and began advertising in fashion magazines a couple of years ago, it got attention but it also just felt wrong for the brand," he notes.
I suppose it feels right for Hearn's ice cream shop that has always tried to push the flavor envelope like Irvine Robbins did.
Hearn's latest popular creation is actually inspired by an old Baskin-Robbins stand by, Rocky Road.
It's called Rocky Peppermint Road and has the basic Rocky Road ingredients including nuts and marshmallows, but it also includes smashed up green and red candy.
"People went wild," he adds proudly.