A Conversation with Larry Margroff
Editor's Note: Larry Margroff, along with his wife, Donna, and mother-in-law, Zella Wigley, purchased Strickland's from Bill Strickland in 1965. In 1995, Larry retired from Strickland's, and turned the business over to his children. Larry went to be with the Lord on September 30, 2002. The following excerpts are taken from a conversation with Larry Margroff at the Original Strickland's store in the late 1990s.
Q: What can you tell us about how Bill Strickland got this place started?
A: Bill worked at Akron Pure Milk and knew milk products inside and out. He started
experimenting with a recipe for frozen custard, and eventually came up with the
ingredients for a great custard, which by the way, are still used here today.
Q: Why did he choose this location?
A: This stand has actually gone through three renovations since the original was built in
1935. Bill came out here during the Depression and bought four city lots for a very good
reason. Folks didn't have much money then, so on Sunday crowds of them would come
and watch airplanes land at the airport across the street. It was free entertainment.
Well, there's nothing like having a cone of frozen custard while enjoying free
Q: What about these frozen custard machines?
A: Bill had a German friend named Sykes Thoma who was making these frozen custard machines with his brother in Canton. They were using them down at the Meyers Lake Amusement Park. The machines were hand-crafted, one at a time. If you look closely you'll see that no two machines are exactly alike. Look at the ones we have in this room. Each one is unique. There is nothing like them.
The machines are made entirely of metal. They are very heavy and they get very cold. And those motors are the same ones that came with the original machines. We have overhauled them during off-season, but they are the originals. I kept a spare down in the basement here and we could change a motor in 30 minutes if one went down. I taught all my kids how to do it, too.
Q: How did you get into this business?
A. Actually, my background was in construction. I operated cranes and 'dozers. I was making good money back in 1965 when I came home one day and my wife and mother-in-law told me Bill Strickland was going to sell. I really had to think about it, and wasn't real sure I was doing the right thing even when we made the decision. But the very next year a recession hit and some people who had worked at my old construction company for 25 years were laid off. Me? I was no longer fighting heat in the summer and the freezing cold in the winter. And I learned that the frozen custard business is recession-proof.
Q: What are some of the changes and innovations you implemented?
A. Well, I put that windbreak up in front of the windows. Before we had air-conditioning, hot wind would blow in from that air field and we would have custard melting all over the place in here. Also, when I got here they had three cone sizes...10, 15 and 20 cents. The 10 cent was one scoop, the 15 cent was one and half scoops and the 20 cent was two scoops. That 15 cent cone just caused too many problems. You would get to the window with the customer's order and it was hard to tell what was a small and what was a medium. Two years later, I got rid of that middle one.
Q: What else?
A. Before World War II, all the orders were car-hopped here. They had guys run out to the cars, take the orders and then run them back. Even after the war they had only guys taking the orders at the windows. Well, when I bought it my daughter and her friend wanted to work here, so we tried it to see if it would work. Well, it worked great and we have had guys AND girls working the order windows ever since.
Q: You have a long list of dedicated customers. Who are some of the more memorable?
A: Oh, I knew lots of faces and we always waved at one another. We were always happy to see our friends stop by. I guess most notably I remember Jim Brown coming here and shaking his hand. Man, he had huge hands! And Jack Nicklaus came out here with his family. He was a nice guy. Recently I believe we had Mike Devine stop by.
Q: What are some of the more unusual experiences you remember?
A. Besides an occasional plane wreck over at the airport, nothing really stands out.
Q: Did you ever have a flavor that failed?
A. Yes, we tried Coffee once and it just didn't work. It was gone after one season. [Editor's Note: Times change. Mocha chunk is now a popular Strickland's flavor!]
Q: What is your favorite flavor?
A. It's hard to pick one. I always liked Fresh Banana, Chocolate Almond and Fresh Strawberry.
Q: How did you avoid eating too much custard over the years?
A. (Laughing) Oh, I never avoided eating it. I ate a cone every day I worked here and still eat one every time I visit!