Ice Cream Slider by Bassetts Ice Cream
Did you know that America’s oldest ice cream company was the first merchant to join Reading Terminal Market (RTM) in 1892? Bassetts Ice Cream (BIC) is a fifth generation family-owned business that has grown with the Philadelphia food scene since 1861. It is a full service frozen dessert distributor on a regional, national and international level. We sat down with Michael Strange, Roger Bassett and the youngest generation, Eric Bassett to discuss the brand, throwback to some outrageous moments and talk a little business here and there.
RTM: How would you describe Bassetts to new customers?
BIC: Being America’s oldest ice cream brand has a huge significance; it adds value and earns a certain kind of respect. The beauty of our product is that you don’t need to speak the language to appreciate it.
RTM: Bassetts has been at RTM the longest. How has the evolution of the Market affected your business?
BIC: We’ve definitely experienced all the ups and downs of the market. The 80’s were the worst; there were days that Bassetts made about $25 in sales. The growth in the number of merchants from 25 to 80 has helped us keep our business strong. More merchants means more diversity, and that allowed us to explore other options in the Market. We’ve opened a bakery and a turkey sandwich shop in addition to keeping Bassetts alive.
RTM: What vision do you have for Bassetts in RTM in the next 20 years?
BIC: It’s about keeping our product consistent, evolving slowly and maintaining that traditional-current vibe. The best example is the marble counter that our customers sit at - it is the original counter from 1892; it’s probably the most valuable item we own. At the same time, we added a new digital price board, creating juxtaposition.
RTM: Your product makes you a global player. What is the hottest market for Bassetts at the moment?
BIC: China, hands down! The Chinese market has shown a demand for more flavors that incorporate fruits and nuts and it is infiltrating trends in the U.S. The green tea flavor was the most challenging in meeting customer satisfaction. Luckily, The Tea Leaf, came through with the specific tea powder that allowed us to nail that flavor.
RTM: Who do you think is a strong example within the culinary world?
BIC: In terms of a chef, we believe that Marc Vetri and his team are unparalleled. He grew his business organically and is very focused on delivering a consistently high quality product and service. Looking at it from a business model perspective, we appreciate Chipotle. Their style of leadership in the industry has led to great success for the business.
RTM: What’s your advice for millennials or people starting out in this business?
BIC: Do more than what’s expected. If you believe in it, do it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough.
RTM: Can you recall the most bizarre order from a customer before?
BIC: The beauty of ice cream is that you are working with a blank canvas. There is no flavor you can’t create. Green Tomato Ice Cream was by far the most unusual flavor we have created for a customer.
RTM: What is the most interesting thing you have ever done with a scoop of ice cream?
BIC: Without doubt the Ice Cream Slider. This looked exactly like a cheeseburger. The patty was a scoop of chocolate ice cream, which we pressed flat. We then put a thin slice of white chocolate from Chocolate by Mueller, and used a glazed donut without a hole from Beiler’s for the bun. We even used a raspberry sauce in lieu of ketchup.
RTM: With a constant change in trends and the success of frozen yogurt, what do you think keeps people loyal to ice cream?
BIC: The unique mouth feel of ice cream cannot be duplicated. It is rich and creamy, with a heavy butterfat content that helps create a silky smooth texture.
RTM: Describe a world without ice cream.
BIC: A world without ice cream would be like a world without smiles. Its capability to evoke memories and emotions is so powerful.
While RTM continues to be their home base, Bassetts has become part of a global lifestyle, representing Philadelphia’s food scene on the world map. We would like to thank the Bassett family for taking the time to discuss their business, and congratulate them on being the first merchant to be featured in our Behind the Counter series.