100 Things: Perry's Ice Cream brings joy - The Buffalo News
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100 Things: Perry's Ice Cream brings joy

It was a bright, sunny day. Michelle Bulan, the director of marketing for Perry's Ice Cream, saw an Amherst shop showcasing Western New York specialties. She popped in.

She asked: Would they consider offering Perry's?

The clerk sighed. "We only sell local."

"But Perry's IS local! It's made right down the road in Akron."

Perry's Ice Cream is a fourth-generation family business in Akron that was started as a small dairy in 1918 by founder H. Morton Perry. Today it is one of the largest ice cream producers in New York. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Bulan laughed, telling that story. So ubiquitous is Perry's that people assume it's some national conglomerate. In 2010, it even starred on "The Apprentice." Contestants hawked Perry's on the streets of the Big Apple.

[PHOTO GALLERY: 100 Things - Eating Perry's Ice Cream]

Yet Perry's was founded in Akron in 1918, and it's still in Akron. On a street called Ice Cream Plaza. Which, in the spring, could accurately describe all of Western New York.

Even on chilly days, crowds flock to roadside stands, craving that first taste of summer. On an April morning at Bubbaloos, a classic hot dog joint in Akron, the famous red Perry's sign was shining in the sun and owner Brenda Schlager was ready for the onslaught.

The Perry's factory address is One Ice Cream Plaza in Akron. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"In Florida, they don't care," Schlager said. "They get the sun all the time. They take it for granted. Here, it's 40 degrees, and they're all out there in shorts."

Perry's Ice Cream releases new flavors for 2017

Perry's main markets are Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The company shows keen awareness of our seasons, moods and needs.

Zero Visibility, a winter ice cream with white coconut and rum, emerged in 1997, the 20th anniversary of the Blizzard of '77. One Buffalo has bits of sponge candy. Sundae at the Ralph, the official ice cream of the Buffalo Bills, sports peanut butter footballs and can sweeten a bitter season.

Reid's at 2800 Elmwood Ave. in Kenmore serves Perry's hard ice cream. Owner Diane Kirchberger serves up the Parker House Cherry, which is a dipping stand flavor only. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Just looking at the list of Perry's ice creams can give you brain freeze. Perry's has 75 premium ice creams, a giant total by anyone's standards.

Some are seasonal, some are found only at scoop shops, some are sold by the tub and others by the quart. It might seem hard to tell Bittersweet Sinphony from Toffee Coffee, or One Buffalo from Sponge Candy. But connoisseurs know.

The current Perry's factory, which dates to 1971, has no public tours. But The News was allowed a peek at the production floor, a stainless steel panorama.

We also got to glimpse the H. Morton Perry Archives, which gave us the scoop. And it was sweet.

H. Morton Perry – the H. stands for Harrison – bought a small dairy in Akron in 1918. In 1932, the dietitian at Akron High School asked for ice cream for the school's cafeteria. Perry plunged into it, using a recipe from his mother.

The ice cream was a hit. And so every night, Perry cranked out a fresh batch, in an old-fashioned churn, with the help of his teenage son Marlo. Production increased. Ice cream being an affordable treat, Perry's survived the Great Depression.

It expanded its market in 1941, when it gobbled up Frontier Ice Cream, on East Ferry Street in Buffalo. In 1946, Perry's Ice Cream was officially incorporated. The 1950s saw the debut of the iconic red Perry's sign.

A commemorative carton featured a photo of H. Morton Perry with his small great-grandson, Brian. Brian Perry is now one of three owners of the company. All of them are  fourth-generation family members.

Brian Perry refers frequently, with quiet pride,  to "my great-grandfather." He is a man of few words. Asked if he had a favorite flavor, he let Bulan answer for him: Mint Ting-A Ling. What about his great-grandfather? Perry answers that. "Strawberry."

He reminded me of someone we had met before on our 100 Things odyssey. But who? Like Perry's White Lightning, it hit me: Rob Hoover, of Hoover's Dairy, where we went to get eggnog. Clearly that's a flavor of person made here in Western New York, the strong, silent dairyman.

Perry's wife, Jayne, was the girl next door. "We were next door neighbors," she said.

Having married into the ice cream business, she often joins colleagues for brainstorming sessions.

"We've talked about Pothole," she laughed. "The tar would be crushed cookies."

Bulan chimed in: "And a percent of proceeds from the sale of Pothole would go to the Department of Transportation."

Ha, ha! It pays to think outside the tub. Perry's Tiramisu, new in 2016, won top prize at the Dairy Foods Association's 2016 Innovative Ice Cream Competition. Another now classic Perry's flavor, Red Velvet, won in 2011.

Perry's One Buffalo Ice Cream was released in the First Niagara Center and Blue Cross Arena for the beginning of the Sabres and Amerks 2015 seasons. (via Perry's Ice Cream)

At Bubbaloos, the choices overwhelmed me. What would it be? Panda Paws? Parkerhouse? Peanut Butter Cup?

Maybe it's the child in me, but I wound up embracing Super Hero.

An ice cream anthropologist might explain that it is of the family Superman, a flavor sighted here and there in the Midwest that is red, yellow and blue. But that wouldn't prepare you for how dazzling it is in person. Its vivid tempera colors look like a painting by Marc Chagall.

It is also shockingly delicious. Perry's doesn't skimp on the cream, and this treat transcended how it was described, as cherry bubble gum, lemon and blue raspberry. It was the taste of joy.

Maybe that slogan is right. Maybe life really is a bowl of Perry's! No wonder all those employees are running around with smiles on their faces.

"How can it not be fun?" Bulan said. "You're making so many people happy."

Email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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