Tom Carvel (born Athanasios Karvelas, Greek: Ἀθανάσιος Καρβέλας) was a Greek-born American businessman and entrepreneur; known for the invention and promotion of soft ice cream in the northeastern United States.
Born on July 14, 1906 (died October 21, 1990) was the founder of the Carvel brand and franchise.
History of Soft Serve Ice Cream- invention and its emergence
In the 1930s in New York City, Karvelas was selling ice cream from a cart.
After having an unfortunate flat tire, Karvelas’ ice cream began to melt—but being a savvy businessman he sold the softened ice cream as a new kind of treat.
It was an instant hit, and in 1934 Karvelas opened the Carvel Frozen Custard shop and took on the name Tom Carvel.
Within three years of his truck breaking down, he’d opened the first Carvel on that exact location, specialising in his newfangled creation.
Tom was not just about ice cream and he was the first to introduce “Buy one, get one free” or “1 + 1” to the market.
In 1947 Carvel came up with the idea to have his own name on ice cream stores across the nation.
After all, many of them were already using his own, patented machines. His idea of creating soft ice cream outlets under his own name, as well as his advice to shopkeepers, can be compared to the type of commercial entity we nowadays know as a franchise.
After World War II, Carvel’s business began to grow rapidly. He started selling his machines throughout the US, but also personally visiting all of his customers in order to train them, showing them the proper use of the machine.
It evolved into one of the forerunners of the type of commercial development we call “franchise”. In 1947 he patented his own brand of chain, while establishing his own school, where he trained new employees.
They also received the business roadmap known as “The Shopper’s Road,” an indoor magazine that advised them on topics ranging from travel and cooking information to new ways to promote their products in their city or region.
The “Carvel” stores reached the number of 700, by 1981, and Tom Carvel wrote history in America.
The other sector in which he also wrote history was that of marketing. He believed that image played a decisive role in promoting the products, and so he was the first general manager to play a leading role in television and radio advertising.
“You can put a tall, handsome voice-maker with perfect voice, perfect pronunciation and perfect grammar. But very few buyers of ice cream look like them. Our ads are aimed at people who look like us, talk like us and sound like us”, he said in the New York Times in 1985.
Of course, his response was more disarming when he was asked why he had decided to put himself as the central face of the company, and he replied that “I couldn’t find someone cheaper than me…”.
Carvel was married, but had no children, and after his death in 1990, at the age of 84, litigation ensued between his relatives and his lawyers, as is usually the case after the death of any man who is so wealthy.
He left behind him a big fortune, a huge brand with 400 stores around the world, and a myth of entrepreneurship and business strategy taught to this day in business seminars in America.
It all started with an accident, a flat tire, which Tom managed to reverse, turning the “American Dream” into reality.