With its 31 flavors, Baskin-Robbins is a cultural icon in the business of ice cream. From classics like chocolate chip and Jamoca Almond Fudge to seasonal favorites like Baseball Nut and Love Potion #31, the store has become famous for its creative flavors. And, while the original stores that would grow into Baskin-Robbins started in California, it was in Tacoma that one of the store’s founders discovered his love for ice cream.
Irvine “Irv” Robbins was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in December 1917. When he was 5, his family moved to Tacoma, where his father, Aaron Robbins, bought the Olympic Dairy company and the accompanying Olympic Dairy Ice Cream Parlor.
By the age of 14, Robbins was working part time at the company’s ice-cream parlor located on 11th and Broadway in Court C in downtown Tacoma. There, he performed myriad tasks from serving sundaes and floats, to packing and delivering ice cream to local grocery stores.
Though the parlor no longer exists, patron Jack Sundquist recalled memories of the shop in Murray Morgan’s Tacoma: Voices of the Past Volume One, published as part of the Washington State Centennial Celebration. Sundquist said he remembered stepping into the shop, with its high ceilings and a long counter running against the south wall. Attached was another room that Sundquist recalled as “a nice place to rest and relax, and some downtown workers brought their sack lunches and ate there, buying a Coke, small bottle of milk, or dish of ice cream.”
Robbins graduated from Stadium High School in 1935. In school, he was a fairly involved student, volunteering as chairman of pep parades; a study hall assistant; and, for one year, a yell leader. After high school, he attended the University of Puget Sound and later the University of Washington. He graduated as a Husky in 1939 with a degree in political science.
Eventually, Robbins found his way to Glendale, California. It was there that he created his first ice cream store, Snowbird Ice Cream, in 1945. After opening several more stores across the suburbs of Los Angeles, Robbins partnered up with his brother-in-law, Burton Baskin. From there, the Baskin-Robbins empire took off.
Robbins continued to live in Southern California but returned to Washington in 1968 to open the 657th Baskin-Robbins location, in Lakewood.
In May 2008, Robbins passed away at his home near Rancho Mirage at the age of 90. Robbins’ love for ice cream is remembered through stories of eating banana ice cream atop his cereal to his lasting legacy of helping create the Baskin-Robbins brand.
But, his entire empire can be traced back to his father’s ice cream parlor in Tacoma. Speaking of that Court C ice cream parlor, a Tacoma News Tribune article from 1981 quoted Robbins as saying, “People seemed to be coming into our Court C store for a little break for some relaxation and fun. You can bet I was thankful to be working there and not someplace else.”