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Interior 4.png Carvel
Carvel is sporting a new look for a modern generation.

GoTo Foods’ Carvel celebrates 90th birthday with updated stores and LTOs

After turning 90, Carvel is focusing on modernizing the brand and expanding to new regions like Florida

Carvel – the New York-founded soft serve ice cream concept operating under GoTo Foods ownership — is celebrating its 90th birthday this year with birthday cake-flavored LTOs and a modern makeover.

While Carvel’s appeal is deep-rooted in nostalgia (founder Tom Carvel allegedly invented soft serve ice cream, and the company has been selling the same ‘Fudgie the Whale’ cakes for Father’s Day for nearly 50 years), it was time for an upgrade for the Carvel stores. The first Carvel store with the new design opened in Gainesville Fla. this May. The store sports a new logo and brighter color scheme, digital menu boards, new point of sales system with Qu, and an upgrade from “coffin”-style freezers to upright freezers with glass doors to show off the merchandise.

The store design is also flexible based on the franchisee’s needs, and a smaller version is available for urban stores or locations that need to fit in a smaller space. For example, shortly after the larger Gainesville location opened, a smaller 900-square-foot version opened in Jamaica, Queens.

“Years ago, our oldest Carvel shops were set up to be mini manufacturing plants because everything is made in the shop,” Jim Salerno, chief brand officer of Carvel, said. “As the years have gone by, that model obviously doesn’t always lend itself to the best guest experience. Guests don’t want to look at your equipment -- they want to see the products fully made…. We want to make sure we’re not changing too much, but we want to move in the right direction to modernize the brand.”

Carvel will be gradually retrofitting stores to upgrade them to this new sleeker look that appeals to modern generations. The brand is rolling out a remodel program where franchisees can sign on to get their store upgraded. Salerno added that Carvel wants to “bring them all up to speed eventually.”  

Besides sporting a new look, Carvel is also looking toward a future of development in new regions. Currently, the brand has 320 stores nationally, though most of the stores area in the New York tri-state area. Decades ago, when he had less competition, Salerno said, Tom Carvel used to have more stores up and down the East Coast, from New England to Miami. Now Carvel is looking to re-enter those regions, particularly Florida as well as some expansion in Texas. Florida, Salerno said, is a great place to start because so many New Yorkers who grew up with Carvel have moved to the state. However, it can be challenging to introduce a regional brand to new customers.

“First of all, it’s soft serve ice cream and the ice cream itself is such a good product that people will gravitate toward it,” Salerno said. “It’s amazing how many people remember the brand from back in the day when they were growing up…. So, when they see it coming back, you get a bunch of built-in business as you’re setting up a store. Then, of course, we get the word out on social media and get it into people’s hands and bellies. But we do benefit from a core group of initial customers who know Carvel from somewhere else.”

This summer, Carvel is celebrating its 90th birthday with a lineup of birthday cake-themed products featuring rainbow sprinkles and birthday cake-flavored ice cream. Throughout the summer, guests can order the flavor in soft serve, shakes, Sundae Dashers, Flying Saucers, and the digital-only “Carvelanche” (soft serve ice cream with mix-ins). Carvel is also offering various promotions all summer, as well as 90th anniversary retro-inspired merchandise, available on the Carvel website.

Moving forward, Carvel is looking forward to steadily opening stores in new areas, and particularly cobranding with some of the GoTo Foods’ sister brands like Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s. The Cinnabon-Carvel cobranded store is called Cinnabon Swirl and just debuted in Hawaii this spring with more to come in the future. Carvel is also working on releasing a mobile app sometime in the near future, though no further details were available yet.

Contact Joanna at [email protected]


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