OAKLAND -- Fentons Creamery on Piedmont Avenue is throwing a 120th anniversary party on Sunday -- and guests can be assured there will be plenty of ice cream. After all, Fentons sells a "ton" of ice cream every day.
"Fentons is the oldest family-run creamery in California," said owner Scott Whidden, a third-generation Oaklander who bought the business in 1987. "We're honored to serve the community and continue a tradition now in its 12th decade. We hope to continue for another 100 years."
Elbridge Seth Fenton founded the dairy business in Oakland in 1894 on 41st near Howe Street, where it stayed for 67 years before moving to its current location. The restaurant and soda fountain were added in 1922. In the beginning, Fentons delivered milk using a horse-drawn carriage -- two favorite horses were named Vanilla and Strawberry -- and also made cheese and cream.
Fenton's grandson Melvin is credited with persuading his grandfather to make ice cream at the creamery. Melvin grew up to be an ice cream maker and created the creamery's famous flavors Toasted Almond, Swiss Milk Chocolate and Rocky Road, according to Whidden, who has been in the ice cream business since he was 16.
"As a 'wee' boy I had the good fortune to serve as an apprentice at Jack Botts ice creamery in Berkeley," said Whidden, who later bought the business.
"There was something about making ice cream using pure, fresh ingredients that just resonated with me."
The ice cream portion of Fentons eventually became the centerpiece of the creamery, which continued in the family until another dairyman, Bill Morison -- who was married to Elbridge Fenton's granddaughter Virginia -- persuaded the Fentons to sell to his employer, Golden State Dairy (later Foremost).
Foremost discontinued Fentons' full dairy operation in 1961 and moved the creamery, restaurant and ice cream production facility to Piedmont Avenue. In the mid-1980s, Whidden began negotiations to purchase Fentons and return it to a locally owned, family business. In 2007, he opened another Fentons in Vacaville at the site of the old Nut Tree.
"Our reason for choosing this location was pretty simple: The Nut Tree represents nostalgic times, much like Fentons Creamery does," Whidden said.
On a recent Saturday morning, two old friends met at Fentons Creamery on Piedmont Avenue for breakfast -- and to share a Dutch chocolate and mint cookie sundae.
"I used to go to Fentons as a child when it was at the old location on 41st Street, right across from my house," said Kathy Borgogno, who lives in Fremont.
"The ice cream is amazing. I also like that they give a portion of their Sundae of the Month sales to good causes."
Borgogno's friend, Nancy Taylor, who lives in Moraga, said Fentons food is great and the service is "spectacular." However, the ice cream is the biggest draw.
"Ice cream is trendy now -- there's lots of good ice cream, but none better than Fentons," she said.
One of the many causes that Fentons supports is the Alameda County 4-H Club. On a recent Saturday, the club set up a booth in Fentons parking lot. People stopped by to learn about the club and to pet the chickens and rabbits that the club members brought along.
"Fentons teamed up with 4-H for the whole month of July," said club leader Jeff Robbins, who remembered going to the ice creamery as a child 40 years ago. "If you purchase a Junior Sundae or Sundae of the Month, a portion goes to 4-H."
July's Sundae of the Month is aptly named "Ode to Melvin" with Toasted Almond and Swiss Milk Chocolate topped with homemade caramel sauce, roasted almonds and, of course, a cherry on top.
The Sunday celebration, which coincidentally falls on National Ice Cream Day, will include Fentons' signature Junior Black and Tan sundaes for $1.20 (regularly $9.25), free scoops of their trademark ice creams, barbecue, crafts and visiting animals from the 4-H Club.
What: Fentons Creamery's 120th anniversary celebration
When: Noon to 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fentons Creamery, 4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland