The Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop is probably the strangest, most unique and delightful ice cream scoop ever invented. It’s shaped like a gun, it’s easy to use, and it dispenses scoops of ice cream in fun, cylindrical shapes.
Oh, and Thrifty Ice Cream and the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop both have huge cult followings. Curious why? I was too. Here is the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop, the full story.
What is Thrifty Ice Cream?
Thrifty is a brand of ice cream first sold at Thrifty Drug Stores in downtown Los Angeles during the Great Depression. The ice cream developed a cult following in the 1930s and 40s, and continues to be sold under the Thrifty brand name, now owned by Rite Aid.
The ice cream is sold in cartons in Rite Aid pharmacies across the country and is known for its cylindrical scoops, served fresh at ice cream counters in select locations (mostly around LA). The ice cream tastes of nostalgia for many Angelenos, and is known for its superior taste and historically affordable price point.
The ice cream comes in approximately 30 flavors, including standard offerings like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Cookies ‘n Cream, but also more adventurous blends like Chocolate Malted Krunch, Medieval Madness and Circus Animal Cookie.
The ice cream has won numerous gold medals at the Los Angeles County Fair (24 gold medals, as of the last count) and has followed the same recipe on many flavors for over 50 years, using real pieces of fruit and freshly baked cookies.
Thrifty Ice Cream was certified Kosher in 1994, and continues to be produced in El Monte, California.
The History of Thrifty Ice Cream
Thrifty ice cream can be traced all the way back to the depression and the founding of Thrifty Drug Stores in downtown Los Angeles in 1929. In those days, almost all drug stores had ice cream counters – a place where you could order a sundae, soda float or have lunch while shopping, and a method for getting customers in the door.
But Thrifty actually goes back even further than 1929. Harry Borun and his brother Robert were originally in the business of wholesaling their drugs to retailers, and started their first business, Borun Brothers, in 1919. The pair did fairly well until the Great Depression hit, and local drug stores – their clientele – started going under.
This photograph is of Broadway, north of Sixth Street, in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1906. And while Thrifty Drug Stores hadn’t yet dotted Los Angeles,Thrifty would soon occupy the lower floor of the building indicated above.
Rather than fold themselves, the brothers decided to go into retail, selling directly to the consumer. And since they had already developed business connections that allowed them to get their products on the cheap, they could keep prices low and under-cut their competitors.
In fact, the company was originally called “Thrifty Cut-Rate Drug Stores,” which is just charming. To get clients into the store though, the brothers needed a gimmick, and landed on ice cream. Dr. Raymond Borun, the son of Harry Borun and nephew of Robert, founders of the company, recalls the brother’s foray into ice cream:
They did their own manufacturing and made a lot of different flavors. They had a plant in West Hollywood and eventually moved the operation to El Monte. It was very high quality and they were very proud to get awards at the L.A. County Fair. The price was quite low so we didn’t make a lot of money off it, but it got people in the store to buy other things.
The idea is to get people to come into the store. They’re not going to come in for a toy or something like that, but ice cream was remarkably successful and very attractive to kids, middle-age people, old people, everybody…When Rite Aid purchased Thrifty, they kept this ice cream.Dr. Raymond Borun
Thrifty Drug Stores grew rapidly over the following decades, and in 1940 the company began producing their own ice cream at a small factory in Hollywood where they made rocky road, concord grape-pineapple and fruit cake flavors.
Of course, the company made their own line of drug store specific products as well – think, Walgreens-brand toilet paper – such as the flexible fabric band aids below. The drug store specialized in cheap, affordable products at a time when consumers didn’t have very much to spend.
By the mid 1970s, Thrifty Drug Stores was the biggest chain on the west coast and its ice cream had achieved cult status among Angelenos. The ice cream was so popular, in fact, that the company had to open a newer, larger factory in El Monte, where the ice cream continues to be produced today.
While Thrifty Ice Cream still survives, the drug store chain was purchased by Rite Aid in 1996, which is why that’s the best place to find the ice cream today. There are currently about 500 Rite Aid locations with Thrifty scoop counters, and the cartons of ice cream are sold in Rite Aid stores across the country.
Where can you buy thrifty ice cream?
For a while – and certainly until the company was bought by Rite Aid in 1996 – Thrifty Ice Cream was only available in California, and that continues to be where most Thrifty Ice Cream counters are located. But in 2019 the company announced plans to increase availability, starting with sales in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
And thankfully, cartons of Thrifty Ice Cream are now available nationwide!
Does Thrifty Ice Cream have gluten?
This is going to depend on what flavor of ice cream you choose, since any gluten would be found in the “mix-ins” rather than in the ice cream itself. Although this is not an exhaustive list, the following Thrifty flavors are known to contain gluten:
- Birthday Cake
- Chocolate Brownie
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- Chocolate Malt Crunch
- Circus Animal Cookies
- Cookies ‘n Cream
- Medieval Madness
Who makes the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop?
The Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop is made by the Rite Aid Corporation, headquartered in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Rite Aid also sells a Thrifty-brand ice cream thermos to keep those pints nice and cool.
The ice cream scoop is made from stainless steel, and while Rite Aid sells the scoop, it is important to note that the product is actually manufactured in China.
Is the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop any good?
The Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop has certain advantages that give it an edge over conventional ice cream scoops, like ergonomic design and ease of use, and of course, the cylindrical ice cream it dispenses.
Let’s start by focusing on the ergonomic design, and then we’ll talk about materials. First, the way you hold this scoop is different from conventional scoopers in that you grip the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop like a gun. With the scooper firmly secured in your palm, you’re meant to press directly down on the ice cream, rather than dragging the scooper to the side.
I find this action to be far easier to control than the movement of conventional, ladle-like ice cream scoopers. It’s so much easier to press down on something (with the stability of the countertop pushing back) than it is to drag a scooper across the top of frozen ice cream.
Scooping frozen ice cream obviously takes some effort, but more than strength, it’s usually about control. With conventional ice cream scoopers it’s too easy to slip and hurl ice cream across the counter, making a mess. The design and operation of the scooper therefore wins, hands down.
Moving on to materials and construction. The current model, sold by Rite Aid, is made from 100% food grade stainless steel, which means it will hold up to consistent use and probably won’t rust. Some people put this thing in the dishwasher, but I would still recommend hand washing only, and then drying completely.
And while the scooper is all metal, there is no indication of stainless steel gauge mentioned in the construction specifications, and some people – especially those who once worked for Thrifty – have noted that the current model is somewhat lighter than the original.
This is not surprising, though perhaps a bit disappointing. But the lighter feel doesn’t seem to affect durability, and the scooper holds together quite well. One downside to the weight, however, is that you’ll be doing all the work of pushing down on the ice cream yourself (whereas in the past, heavier scoops took advantage of gravity to make scooping easier).
Lastly, the current scooper has two prongs that stick into the ice cream upon insertion and grip the cylinder as the ice cream scoop is twisted. After the ice cream is ejected, the prongs leave two holes in the top of the cylinder, resembling a pig snout.
We have something of a Mandela effect going on with these prongs. Some people remember these holes from the old days, but others do not, and there seems to be debate on whether this is a new design or not.
Please remember, this has absolutely no bearing on performance though – if you like the holes and the little pig snout look, great! If not, it’s pretty easy to smooth them over with a spoon before serving.
How does the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop work?
The Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop should be inserted into the ice cream perpendicularly, pressed downward with force, turned 90 degrees and then extracted. Then, center the scooper directly over your cone or bowl and squeeze the handle, gently ejecting the ice cream cylinder.
This is obviously quite different from most traditional ice cream scoops, but in my opinion, it’s so smart. First, it’s easier to press directly down on something than it is to press down and to the side, as you would with a normal scoop.
How many times have you tried to scoop hard ice cream and slipped? Or accidentally hurled ice cream chunks across the room? It’s happened to us all…
Accidents and ice cream disasters are easily avoided with this scooper. And another added bonus is the super cool cylindrical shape. It’s definitely a show stopper and a really cool way to show off.
Pro tip: To make using the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop even easier, run it under warm water for a few seconds to heat up the metal and watch it effortlessly glide down into the ice cream.
You may have never expected to be putting so much thought into the purchase of an ice cream scooper, but then again, it’s not every day that a product as unique as the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop comes around. The Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop checks all my boxes – it’s unique and well designed, made from high quality materials, it works extremely well, and it looks really freaking cool.
Even for those of us who didn’t grow up eating Thrifty ice cream in Los Angeles, the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop nevertheless brings an added dose of pleasure and joy to the whole ice cream experience.
Let’s face it, ice cream is supposed to be fun, and scooping it with this wacky contraption makes that experience even better.
So, is the Thrifty Ice Cream Scoop worth it? I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes, it definitely is.