If you've heard of either of these brands already, chances are that Frostop is the one you're familiar with. Founded by L.S. Harvey, Frostop is famous for its namesake root beer, but the brand also was once attributed to a very large chain of drive-in restaurants. As the webmaster of Roadside Architecture explains, "The first Frostop Root Beer stand opened in Springfield, OH in 1926. The company expanded nationwide, reaching over 100 locations by 1958. By the 1960s, there were over 350 locations," the company's peak.
Over at the Broken Chains Blog, author Zap Actionsdower has written a couple of posts on Frostop. "Like A&W, Dog 'n Suds, and B-K," Zap writes, "Frostop drive-ins would make their own root beer using a proprietary recipe. As with many brands covered here, decline came for Frostop in the seventies with a slowing economy and increased competition from the national fast food chains. Corporate support for franchisees ended in the early eighties, rendering the remaining Frostop locations independent."
|LaPlace Frostop, which celebrates its 63rd year in operation -- the longest continually running location -- in 2021. Courtesy Retro Road Map|
One of those remaining Frostops, located in LaPlace, LA, seems to be the most involved with preserving the legacy of the brand. The owners of that Frostop even ran a blog that shared all sorts of "Frosty Facts," including the information that there is no longer a franchise -- "The franchise went out of business in the early 1980's. Those Frostops left across the country are independent. You will find a wide ranging difference in menus at those that are left" -- as well as the information that "we actually still make our homemade root beer at the LaPlace Frostop. Many of the other Frostops also make their own root beer."
Zap has been to the LaPlace Frostop, as well as three others, and fellow retail blogger Mike of the Houston Historic Retail Blog has been to an additional fifth location. In total, 12 Frostops remain operating around the country, a majority of which are in the south -- five in Louisiana, and two in Mississippi (a full list can be seen here). Greenville, of course, is one of those.
Again, Frostop at one point spanned nearly 350 locations all over the south and midwest; it stands to reason, then, that Memphis once had several locations of its own, such as the onetime Whitehaven Frostop pictured below.
|Whitehaven Frostop. Courtesy Pinterest|
One thing you might notice in that image of the Whitehaven Frostop is the oversized replica of a frosted root beer mug affixed to the top of the building. A similar mug can be seen in the earlier image of the LaPlace Frostop as well, that one standing proud atop a pole. Whether mounted to the roof or placed on a pole, these giant mugs became iconic beacons synonymous with the Frostop brand. Many of them actually even rotated.
Sources explain that the concept of the giant rotating mug was created by T.W. Ganus, with the first one introduced in 1954 at the first Frostop in the south, located in Jefferson, LA, near New Orleans. According to the LaPlace Frostop Blog, the mug "was copyrighted by Ganus to limit its use to Frostop operators. The copyrighted designs and patents were sold to Frostop to be used on a national scale." Roadside Architecture further elaborates that the mugs are made of sheet metal and stand approximately 14 feet tall. This page tracks many of the remaining mugs (and drive-ins), whether they are still affiliated with operating Frostop restaurants or not.
As you might expect, the mug at the LaPlace Frostop, of course, still rotates beautifully today.
Whereas Frostop was known for its root beer and typical drive-in style fare, including the Lot-O-Burger and the Butterburger, our next broken chain of interest, Pasquale's, operated on a different side of the food spectrum. If it wasn't already obvious to you from the name "Pasquale's," that category becomes more clear when we expand to the chain's full name: Pasquale's Pizza and Pasta.
The 2015 book Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati: The Queen City's Tasty History by Dann Woellert shares a remarkable level of detail about Pasquale's origins. "On the Westside of Cincinnati," Woellert writes, "is a neighborhood called South Fairmont, or 'Little Italy.' ... The first pizzeria to come out of the Little Italy neighborhood was Pasquale’s, founded in 1953 at 1742 Queen City Avenue by Vinny and Pasquale (Pat) Gramaglia and their cousin, Lou Roberto. Pasquale’s became the first chain pizza restaurant in the country," long before Domino's, Papa John's, or Pizza Hut came on the scene.
Woellert continues, "The restaurant chaining began with the family. Pat wanted to open more stores, so one year later, he sold that first store to his sister Louise Bellisimo and his father, Vito Gramaglia, for $6,000 total. [Cousin] Lou would open the Newport, Kentucky location in 1957. Pat’s sister Marie Isadore owned the Colerain Avenue franchise, opened in 1959. That same year, Vinny and Pat’s sister Cecilia Gramaglia and her husband, Jim DeCamp, moved to Indianapolis to open a location on Troy Avenue, eventually opening up three more locations that their sons helped to run." Some of these locations still run in the family even today -- see Pasquale's Newport and Vito Provolone's in Indianapolis.
|See caption inset into image. Courtesy Pasquale's Newport|
If you'd like to read the full section about Pasquale's from that book, I've excerpted it for you here. In this post I am mainly focused on bringing you the highlights.
It has already been noted above that Pasquale's grew to be the first chain pizza restaurant in the country. In addition to the chain quickly growing into the family business, Woellert writes that "Also helping the franchising was the fact that Vinny, a baker by trade, had developed a pizza dough that didn’t need refrigeration. They made the dough at the commissary and shipped to the franchise locations, saving franchisees startup costs of a dough mixer and large refrigeration."
Woellert shares more details about the commissary as well: "The first commissary was Camp Washington, where they baked their own hoagie buns and made dough. Then they moved to a large four-floor former meatpacking plant at Massachusetts and Township. The first floor ran the catering business, and the second floor was the processing – pepperoni, sausage and other specialties. The third floor was the bakery, and the fourth floor was a frozen foods plant. The first frozen pizza sold in a Kroger grocery was a Pasquale’s frozen pizza."
|1966 Modern Packaging magazine ad featuring frozen pizza boxes from Waldorf Paper Products Company. Read more here (note also the unedited version of the image at that link). Courtesy flickr|
By 1966, 13 years after Pasquale's was founded, the chain had grown to 125 locations. That same year, the company was sold to Neal Andrews -- a franchisee from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati -- and a group of investors from Birmingham, AL. According to Bhamwiki, these new owners "took the chain public, hired Les Nuby, Jr. as president, and nearly doubled the chain's size to a high of 244 in 1977." Understandably due to the Birmingham connection, a large part of this growth was focused in the south (incidentally allowing another competing Cincinnati pizza chain, LaRosa's, "a chance to win the franchising war and a larger share of the pizza market" back home).
20 years after Andrews bought Pasquale's, he sold it to Labatt's Brewery, a Canadian business that, according to Woellert, "needed a business in the United States for tax reasons." Bhamwiki notes that "Nuby and John Sanford remained to manage the subsidiary, which remained successful for the next several years," but after "Labatt reorganized its American holdings in 1990," the company was sold again, with 35 locations going to Millard Deason. It is unclear if additional locations went to other parties, or if the chain had shrunk to only those 35 restaurants by that time.
In 2006, another Birmingham-area businessman, Wayne Sellers, purchased the Pasquale's chain, which by then had downsized even further to just 25 locations. Sellers, however, announced ambitious plans to revitalize and regrow the chain, adopting a new format as "Pasquale's Italian Café" and investing up to $30 million. A November 2006 Birmingham newspaper article blurb hints at the plans, but unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a full copy of the details:
Pasquales rises again: Reheating Pasquale’sSunday, November 19, 2006Roy L. WilliamsWayne Sellers knows some people doubt his ability to turn Hoover-based Pasquale’s Pizza and Pasta, a chain with a nostalgic name but just 25 locations, into an industry powerhouse with 1,200 restaurants across the United States in the next five years.
A 2012 article by that same newspaper author notes that, "Six years later, instead of 1,200 eateries, Pasquale’s has 23 locations in six states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Mississippi. Sellers said Pasquale’s is doing well (with $23 million in sales combined last year) and has been well received in its markets.
"The expansion didn’t happen, Sellers says, because of bad timing and the Great Recession that occurred shortly after he bought the chain. 'Right after I bought the company, cheese prices doubled, which, of course, affects the pizza business,' Sellers said. 'And a hedge fund that had invested in us got caught up in the bad economy.'"
It seems more or less impossible to track down an exact number of still-operating Pasquale's restaurants today, but it's worth noting that Woellert's book, published in 2015, suggests "There are now only twelve Pasquale's stores." I believe the number may be closer to the 23 figure quoted by Williams in 2012, however. Sellers does have an operational website for Pasquale's, but it is bare-bones, and does not include location information.
|Some images of still-operating Pasquale's locations. The restaurant on top is located in Gardendale, AL (courtesy Bham Now). The restaurant on bottom is located in Indianapolis (courtesy Foursquare).|
Like the giant frosted mug to Frostop, Pasquale's had a readily identifiable icon of its own: a mascot, designed to look like an Italian chef, standing on a cloud and often seen holding a steaming-hot pizza. There is some conflicting information on the mascot's origins, but either way it can be traced to one of two people.
In his book, Dann Woellert writes, "Pat was friends with Len Goorian, producer of the Uncle Al and Paul Gibson shows locally [in Cincinnati]. Len, along with Mike Tanguy, remodeled and rebraned the [original] Queen City store and helped with promotion and advertising." Woellert claims that "Len was responsible for drawing the Pasquale's pizza guy mascot still used today," but interestingly, in a series of forum posts on Roadfood.com in the early 2000s, Pat Gramaglia's daughter-in-law claims "the pizza chef was drawn by Mike Tangie [sic], a friend of Pasquale and Vince."
Regardless of the discrepancy, Pasquale's own daughter-in-law shares some other tantalizing details about the company in that forum:
My father-in-law Pasquale and his brother Vincent are the founders and original owners of Pasquale Pizza. My mother-in-law liked the color pink so the first logo had pink and black. ... I believe his recipe originated with Pat's mother and father. His father was from Italy.The franchise was a big success in its heyday in Cincinnati. Due to health and personal reasons Vinny and Pat sold the company to a company in AL around 1969. They owned it for many years and tried to make a go of it. The cost of quality ingredients was so high they had to cut back.When my father-in-law had the business he would travel out to CA and hand pick the tomatoes he wanted for his sauce.It is now owned by one man. I can't remember his name. My husband and I would love to make a comeback for Pasquale Pizza and bring it back to life. My father-in-law was a fantastic chef and could create an excellent meal.
Even more interestingly, that "one man" -- Wayne Sellers -- also made an appearance in the long-running discussion on Pasquale's on that forum. So, too, did a number of other family members and past and present franchise owners and customers.
Due to its age, Roadfood.com seems more liable to disappear from the internet rather than stick around, but I've compiled a number of the more interesting posts (in my opinion) in that same document linked earlier containing the excerpt from Woellert's book (accessible here). The posts seem to be in descending order (the dates are all messed up on the forum so I did not include them in the document), and I made no effort to adjust the formatting, but still -- give it a once-over if you're interested in a little additional info on Pasquale's besides what I've already shared here.
In Greenville, MS, both the Pasquale's and Frostop reportedly had always been owned by the same people -- which this dual yearbook ad seems to confirm -- so it makes sense that the two would wind up combining into one big double-broken chain paradise. But things weren't always that way. Before we get to exploring the new location, I thought we should first take a look at the original, separate Frostop and Pasquale's locations in Greenville.
|Hwy 82 Frostop building, 2008. Courtesy Google Maps|
|Hwy 82 Frostop building, 2019. Courtesy Google Maps|
Let's go with Frostop first. The above two images are Google Street Views of the original Frostop in Greenville, opened in 1962 and located on Hwy 82 just a short ways east of the intersection with Hwy 1. In 2008, the Frostop was still operational, complete with mug. In the more recent capture from 2019, you can see that the building has fallen into disrepair ever since Frostop's relocation.
|Frostop mug sign looking east, 2009. Courtesy flickr|
|Frostop mug sign looking west, 2010. Courtesy flickr|
|Fros Top USA arrow sign, looking west, 2004. Courtesy Wayback Machine|
|Fros Top USA arrow sign, looking west, 2007. Courtesy GHS 40th Reunion Website|
These additional pictures show Greenville's Frostop mug in much clearer detail, as well as a separate "Fros Top USA" sign that also used to stand at the Hwy 82 location prior to its removal circa 2007. Supposedly, the Frostop mug once rotated (note the orientation of the mug in the 2004 image supports this theory), but that feature, too, was gone by 2007 (details from Roadside Architecture, which also has some more images of the mug at that page).
|Hwy 82 Pasquale's building, 2008. Courtesy Google Maps|
|Hwy 82 Pasquale's building, 2016. Courtesy Google Maps|
|Hwy 82 Pasquale's building, 2019. Note the demolished former cinema. Courtesy Google Maps|
Just about 1,000 or so feet to the southwest in Abraham Shopping Center, Greenville's original Pasquale's can be found. "Established in 1964," their Facebook page says, "Pasquale's Pizza is Greenville's oldest pizzeria." Located immediately next-door to the onetime Cinema 1-82, this spot, too, fell into disrepair not long after Pasquale's left it. Even the cinema building itself was demolished in 2018.
|Pasquale's sign, 2010. Courtesy flickr|
|Pasquale's sign, 2009. Courtesy Yelp|
It was harder to find images of the Pasquale's from prior to the move, but I still managed to dig up the two you see above -- one clearly of much better quality than the other! Below, you'll also find some additional bonus pics of other things long gone from the Hwy 82/Hwy 1 area, including Cinema 1-82, the sign for Abraham Shopping Center, and the sign for the nearby Mainstream Mall (revisit this post for some brief information on the mall).
|Cinema 1-82, 2004. Courtesy Wayback Machine|
|Abraham Shopping Center arrow sign, 2004. Courtesy Wayback Machine|
|Mainstream Mall signage, date unknown. Not sure if this is Hwy 1 facing north or Hwy 82 facing east. Courtesy flickr|
|Future combined home of Pasquale's & Frostop, 2008. Courtesy Google Maps|
In 2010, Pasquale's and Frostop made the move away from the sadly dying area of Hwy 82, closer to the surviving retail scene of Greenville located further down Hwy 1, opening their newly consolidated operations at 1654 Hwy 1 South. This building -- itself also a former cinema -- had most recently been a mattress outlet, as shown in the street view capture above. Definitely some interesting conversions here over the years! Thankfully, the old Frostop mug made the move to the new location also, comfortably plopping itself down in the parking lot (and creating "a new Delta photo op for family gatherings," according to the photographer of the top image below).
|Relocated Frostop mug, 2010. Courtesy flickr|
|Courtesy Divers and Sundry|
It's taken a while, but now it's finally time to jump into details of -- and pictures from -- my own visit to this place. Despite having been to Greenville countless times, my very first visit to the Pasquale's and Frostop took place on December 27, 2019.
Naturally, I couldn't resist getting some "mugshots" of my own! With the last pic above, I tried to mimic the 2015 image from Divers and Sundry featured earlier. Unfortunately, even though it no longer rotates on its own, you can see that the mug has (for some reason or another) been reoriented since that time, rendering the same angle impossible to capture. It looks like it may even have been relocated further out into the parking lot.
Focusing on the building itself now. You'll note that the dual restaurant's neighbor is Stein Mart -- or at least, it was at the time of these pictures; Stein Mart, as I'm sure you're aware by now, declared bankruptcy and closed all of its stores in 2020. Thus, the store shown here now stands vacant. Hopefully that won't hurt Pasquale's and Frostop's business any. (I doubt it would, since both have been operating in Greenville since the 1960s and still seem to have a dedicated following.) Stein Mart is an interesting subject all its own, given that the chain was actually founded in Greenville. As you may have guessed, I will cover Stein Mart in much greater detail in a future blog post...
Some closer looks at the billboard-like signage for Frostop and Pasquale's placed on top of the building. Both sides feature separate, smaller signs attached to them: the chef mascot for Pasquale's, the famous mug for Frostop. Unfortunately, the Frostop side was missing its mug at the time of my visit. As you can see in the images below, the signs have seemingly interchangeably misplaced their adornments at various times over the years:
|Mug and Pasquale both present. Courtesy TripAdvisor|
|Mug present, Pasquale missing. Courtesy Foursquare|
|Pasquale present, mug missing. Courtesy Yelp|
Perhaps these issues with the oft-missing adornments -- as well as the fading signs -- are what prompted the owners to undergo a façade refresh in 2020, completely removing the storefront signage altogether. As of last check (late December 2020), no new signage has been installed on the building to let customers or travelers know what's inside; just a simple banner stating that the dining room has reopened (the restaurant had built a makeshift drive-thru and only operated out of that during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic). Hopefully that's not permanent, however, and new signs are still in the works! Again, while Greenville residents surely know they're there, and the Frostop mug admittedly is still in the parking lot (as well as a newly-refreshed road sign at the edge of the property), I feel like having zero signage at all on the building could cause way more harm to the broken chains' business than Stein Mart's closure ever could.
My concerns about the façade remodel aside, let's hop back into my 2019 pictures. (I guess it's a good thing I visited and took these when I did!) Here we're moving closer to the entrance to the building. If you look close enough, you'll see that the Frostop and Pasquale's signs were actually simply affixed to the previous MS Mattress Outlet signage -- you can see the old blue color peeking through in-between the two.
Heading inside, here's a look straight back towards the rear of the restaurant. I'm actually standing close to the middle of the restaurant, as opposed to just inside the entrance, for this view. The order counter is immediately to my left, with seating in front of me, to my right, and out of view behind me. Note the raised ceiling (possibly original to the cinema days?) as well as the classic Frostop and Pasquale's advertisements directly below it.
The front right corner of the interior of the restaurant has a dramatic stretch of wall between the roofline and the drop ceiling above the customer seating below, upon which the restaurant has placed a faux-vintage Dr. Pepper bottle cap clock sign as well as the custom-made signage that was used to mark this location as the future home of the combined Pasquale's and Frostop operation.
Here's a closer shot of the "future home of..." signage, supplementing my images with some additional ones sourced online. Note that the word "future" was crossed out once this sign was installed in the newly-opened building.
|Courtesy Google Maps|
Looking out from the front dining room (underneath the Dr. Pepper and Frostop/Pasquale's signs) into the middle dining room. In the top image above, you can see that a couple of T-shirts are hanging from the ceiling. I tried to buy one, but unfortunately, those ones were not for sale.
|Courtesy Google Maps|
The showpiece of the middle dining room is the corrugated metal "100% Genuine Mississippi Delta Soul" mural, located on the right-hand wall and seen in the top image above. The bottom image shows an additional example of local flair décor adorning the walls of the restaurant. As broken chains with no corporate oversight, the owners of this restaurant had free reign on how to decorate the place -- and I like the decisions they made!
|Courtesy Google Maps|
The order counter and menu board is located along the left-hand wall in the center of the restaurant. Note the additional Frostop signs and advertisements along the wall here.
Despite ordering (and, later, picking up) our food in-person, we ate our meals to-go. My relatives in Greenville eat here regularly and usually get pizza or calzones, and not that those menu items aren't, but I wanted to be sure and try something super-authentically Pasquale's. So, I ordered the stromboli steak sandwich, pictured above (and yes, I apologize for my lackluster food photography!).
One of the other surviving original Pasquale's restaurants describes "The Original Stromboli, Circa 1956" as a "beef patty covered with melted mozzarella cheese, topped with your choice of mushroom gravy or pizza sauce; chopped onions and pickle slices optional." In Greenville, these guidelines are followed pretty closely: "peppered beef patty with mushroom sauce, onions, and pickles" (no cheese, but it doesn't really need it). In amongst its history of the chain, the Dann Woellert book referenced earlier notes that "Pasquale's was also famous for bringing the Stromboli to Cincinnati after its creation in 1950 in Philadelphia. The Stromboli is named after a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, containing one of the three active volcanoes in Italy."
I remember my stromboli steak sandwich tasting fantastic on this visit, as did the cole slaw and seasoned fries that I ordered with it as sides. Unfortunately, on a second visit in April 2020 (not pictured), I ordered the same thing, and it didn't taste nearly as good as the first time -- I think there was too much gravy that time, soaking through the bread. But I think that was just a fluke.
To make sure I got something authentically Frostop in this post as well, I kind of coopted my mom's order, convincing her to get a Lot-O-Burger (also with seasoned fries, although you could get regular crinkle fries instead). I've paired the image of it above with an old Frostop ad promoting the Lot-O-Burger below.
While I believe it tasted good, my mom didn't find it to be anything special (and admittedly, she's not much of a burger person anyway). On that April 2020 visit, she got a calzone instead, and found that much more to her liking. Next time I'm here, I'm definitely going to have to get a Lot-O-Burger for myself -- or any of the other delicious things on the menu...! (Besides root beer. Even though that's definitely a Frostop item, I just don't like the stuff. Sorry not sorry.)
|Courtesy LaPlace Frostop on Facebook|
|Courtesy Google Maps|
|Courtesy Google Maps|
Returning our focus to the restaurant building, here are some views from within the back dining room. The top one looks straight back, while the bottom one reverses direction and looks back up towards the order counter. Evidently the Pasquale's side of the operation offers a lunch buffet, but the above images must have been taken at dinnertime (not to mention that it likely has not been operational since the pandemic started as well). The "Pizza & Salad" sign is intriguing -- it looks a bit too put-together to be custom, but I don't think it's specific to another chain, either.
|Courtesy Google Maps|
The soda fountain -- featuring Frostop Root Beer, of course -- is located directly between the order counter and the rear dining room, and also features a large Pasquale's logo complete with chef mascot emblem, likely relocated here from the original Pasquale's location in town. Like the mug in the parking lot, I was definitely excited to photograph this -- and as a bonus, unlike the mug, I didn't even know this one was here!
As a comparison, here's a close-up of that sign joined with an identical version of the Pasquale's logo that I was able to find online.
|Courtesy Google Maps|
One last shot of the interior, looking towards the front, before we head back outside. Featured above are two nighttime shots of the storefront. The old MS Mattress Outlet signage behind the Frostop and Pasquale's signs should be much more visible to you with all the illumination from the lights!
As we approach the end of this post, I thought some of you might be interested in seeing the full menu for Pasquale's and Frostop in Greenville. Like I mentioned earlier, there's much more on the menu than just stromboli steak sandwiches and Lot-O-Burgers. The pictures above I took myself; the ones below show the same menu, but via scanned images from Zomato. If it's easier for you, the menu is also available to read in full at the Pasquale's & Frostop website.
Just as an update before closing out this post, I wanted to share these two recent images of the interior of the restaurant, dated November 2020 and courtesy Google Maps, which appear to show that the interior, too, was upgraded concurrently with the exterior changes I've told you about already. Note that the Pasquale's sign is no longer on the same wall as the drink machine, and the wall behind the order counter now has a faux brick design (looks like improved lighting in that area, too). In other words -- these two broken chains in Greenville are only getting better and better! Also included above is a pic of the updated road sign facing Hwy 1 as seen in December 2020 (which I also referenced earlier in this post).
And finally, one last thing to note... it's possible that some of you may have heard of Chuck E. Cheese's gambit during the pandemic -- that when their restaurants were forced to temporarily close as dine-in facilities, they began covertly operating on Grubhub and other such food delivery apps under the guise of "Pasqually's Pizza and Wings." It should go without saying, I hope, that this Pasqually's is in no way related to the broken chain Pasquale's that we have spent so long discussing in the above post. However -- I must commend Chuck E. Cheese for the effort; if I'm reading this article correctly, it sounds like the virtual brand was actually in the works before the pandemic, it's just that the pandemic proved the perfect time to launch it. And it's actually performing quite well for them. Good for Pasqually's! All the inadvertent press they got as consumers figured out the ruse surely helped, too, I think.
And amusingly... if you click the link to the Pasqually's-with-a-Y website above, you'll see that Chuck E. Cheese has already changed the chain's logo from the original version, seen in the collage I created below. Notice that that first version bears more than a passing resemblance to the "boxy" block letter version of the broken chain Pasquale's-with-an-E logo. It could easily just be a coincidence... but isn't it fun to think that the change was made so as not to appear too similar to the brand that set the precedent for all other US pizza chains to follow? Food for thought... :)
I think that's a good note to end this post on. I hope you've enjoyed exploring the history of both Frostop and Pasquale's, as well as the unique combined location of the two broken chains here in Greenville, MS. I wish the Greenville location continued success; same goes for all the other Frostops, Pasquale's, broken chains, and restaurants and retailers in general out there. These have been tough times not just for people but for a lot of places, too. I hope this year will prove to be better for all of them -- and for you as well.
Thanks for checking out the Mid-South Retail Blog; I have a lot planned for 2021, and I hope you'll stick around for all of those posts in the future, as well as my weekly uploads to flickr. Until then and as always, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!