In 1963, Bob Farrell opened the first Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. It was in Portland, Oregon and the premise was simple: Serve tons of ice cream in a raucous party environment. People must have liked the idea because by 1970, there were 58 Farrell’s shops and hundreds of imitators. I suspect it was the imitators, with their attempts to out-Farrell’s Farrell’s, that gave that kind of establishment a less-than-good name.

By the time I went to one, it was a place you and your friends would go not so much to dine as to see who could embarrass themselves the most, consuming mammoth tubs of ice cream. One dish was even called the Pig’s Trough. If you finished its twelve scoops, you received a little badge that said, “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s.” Such an honor. There were also little songs and skits the staff would do in serving the ice cream. One installment of The Bob Newhart Show memorably parodied these, with Bob being humiliated in public over his order of a single scoop. That episode alone probably scared a lot of people off from visiting a Farrell’s. At the very least, it summarized why I never felt too comfy in one.

Mr. Farrell sold the chain to the Marriott Corporation in 1971 and worked with them to expand its reach to 130 parlours across the nation. It is said that every one was successful, at least while Mr. Farrell was involved, but then it all went wrong in a hurry. He left the company and soon after, in 1985, it was sold. The new owners decided the concept had run its course (perhaps it had) and began to play down the “make a pig of yourself” theme and turn the chain into facsimiles of Howard Johnson’s — family restaurants with a great ice cream capability. By 1990, the chain was almost dead. In ’96, a new company acquired the name and trademarks, and has been slowly opening new Farrell’s here and there. In this era of more conscious healthy eating, it’s probably not the same.

54 Responses to Farrell’s

  • Phil Ehrens says:

    Went to the Torrance Farrell’s after every Culver High home football game. We would absolutely trash the place, and the waitresses would egg us on. One night we ordered 50 2c plain and broke all the glasses.

    @Karen – Yep, it was me and Frank P. that turned the Honda sideways!

  • Harry says:

    When I was growing up in Portland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Farrell’s was a VERY important part of kid culture. The Pig’s Trough was originally called just the Trough, and the even larger dish eventually known as the Zoo was first known as the Portland Zoo.

    We left Portland in 1974 for Boston, which was a Farrell’s-free zone, so I didn’t witness the chain’s decline and fall. But I recently went to one of the recently-opened new Farrell’s, in Sacramento, and it’s a remarkably well-done revival, hewing far closer to the original format than I would have expected anyone would attempt in the 21st century. And at least when we went there, it was mobbed.

  • Kenny says:

    I had my 15th birthday party at Farrell’s on Rosemead back in the mid 80’s. Great place and great memories. Where have all the time gone? Now they are just memories to reminisce over.

  • Doug says:

    I’m glad to see Farrell’s making a slow comeback, even though it’s focused mostly in the Orange County and Riverside County areas.

    I will never forget the one time I went, as a kid, to the one that was located in Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, and there was a commotion involving what was labeled as the “San Diego Zoo” sundae (which I’m sure was because it was in San Diego, and we’d just been labeled as having the largest zoo in the world).

    When someone would order the Zoo (usually for a birthday party or some such celebration, as it was an exorbitant amount of money and meant to be shared amongst several people), there were two servers who would get this set of poles and an odd tarp with a hole cut in the center. The two servers would have a third person place the giant sundae in the cut out hole, and they would then parade throughout the store, making all sorts of hoopla involving the serving of said dessert.

    During our visit, however, someone had spilled a glass of water not 30 seconds before the Zoo was prepped. As they came around, the first server hit the wet patch and down she went – with the requisite sundae – all over her, and the floor. It was a nightmare; ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, water, ice – it was all strewn about, and the table she’d passed had gotten tipped over at the same time, spilling everything.

    Shortly after that, they stopped the run through the restaurant, and instead just brought the Zoo on a trolley to the table, where it was served up.

    I still miss those days, and hope to visit the Buena Park or Brea location in the near future to see if I can capture my childhood again.

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