An unpretentious, old green awning out front tells the story of the enduring Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich Shop. For nearly 100 years now, generations of families have been creating memories inside the downtown Florence eatery founded as Trowbridge’s Creamery.
“My favorite thing has been to see a little blue-haired grandmother come in and sit up there with her grandchild, and to overhear her say, ‘Honey, when I was your age, my grandmother brought me in here, and we sat here in these same seats. I love that,” said Don Trowbridge.
The 80-year old owner of Trowbridge’s in Florence is the third-generation to run the family business. Famous for its orange pineapple ice cream and chicken salad sandwiches, the beloved local eatery will celebrate its centennial anniversary on March 12, the same day the city of Florence marks its 200th anniversary. From the vintage mint green leather booths to the decades-old menu above the ice cream bar, not much has changed over Trowbridge’s 100 years of business.
As Don tells the story, it was 1917 when his grandfather Paul Trowbridge traveled from his Texas home to a dairy convention in North Carolina. He stopped for the night in a little town called Florence, Alabama.
“I don’t know if it was a premonition, or what,” Don said, “But by the time that convention was over and he made it back to Texas, he’d decided he was going to move to Florence with my grandmother and dad.”
The next year, they built Trowbridge’s on North Court Street in downtown Florence, where it remains today. Trowbridge’s is the oldest business still operating in its original location in Florence. The famous orange pineapple ice cream flavor was invented and created by his grandfather, and the shop served only ice cream until his father went off to World War II. While he was away, Don’s mother ran the shop and added hot dogs and sandwiches to the menu.
Until about 50 years ago, the ice cream was made in-house. Even though a Nashville creamery now makes the ice cream, it’s the same Trowbridge family recipe it’s always been. And the same goes for his mother’s famous chili dog recipe, which Trowbridge’s customers helped perfect.
By 1983, Don’s mother was growing tired of the daily demands of running the business. The following year, Don began plans to take over, and in 1985, he retired from Reynolds Metals Co. and bought out his mother and brother to become the third-generation owner.
“When I took over the business, my mother gave me one piece of advice, ‘Son, it’s not broke, so don’t try to fix it.’ And I can tell you, I haven’t changed much,” said Don.
While locals keep the tables full daily, tourists frequently make a point to visit the restaurant. Over the years, it’s also been patronized by many famous musicians, thanks to its proximity to Muscle Shoals. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt was photographed having a bite to eat at Trowbridge’s.
Secret to Success
If you ask Don Trowbridge, the secret to the business’ longevity can be summed up with a simple analogy.
“There’s only three things it takes to make a success. A quality product at a reasonable price with excellent service. It is a three-legged stool, and if you remove any one of the legs, you’re not going to make it,” he said.
Don says he strives to use that formula every day he walks in the doors at Trowbridge’s. And so far, he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“My son asks me all the time, ‘Dad, you’re 80 years old. When are you going to hang it up?’ And I tell him, ‘When I get old enough or quit having fun, whichever comes first.’ So, when I’m ready, he is ready to step in and take it over.”
Enjoy some of Trowbridge’s famous orange-pineapple ice cream from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 316 North Court Street in Florence.
Story by Melissa Johnson Warnke, Photos by Brandon Robbins
This article also appeared in the February 2018 edition of the Alabama Retailer magazine.