Farmbest to Flav-O- Rich to Blue Bell

The Treat Goes On

 Is your head churning yet about all this ice cream news?  I hope you are enjoying remembering where ice cream in Sylacauga started so that you can be thankful for now!  Blue Bell, that’s you! Sylacauga is so blessed to have you here. On September 1, 1978, Farmbest Foods began operating as Flav-O-Rich, Inc., a subsidiary of Dairymen, Inc.  The ice cream production continued to make 12,000,000 gallons/dozens annually and continued to provide jobs for people in Sylacauga.                                                                                                                                   

The company remained active in the city. Looking back through newspaper clippings and memorabilia from the company, I see names many of you will remember: Winford Collier, Walter Jones, Mary Judah, Preston Rayfield, Bruce Hammonds, Daniel Connell, Virgil and Duane Butterworth, and others, too numerous to mention.                                                                                     

In 1980 Ross Payton, then Mayor of Sylacauga, proclaimed Tuesday, July 15, as “Ice Cream Day” in Sylacauga. A six-foot high snowman made from the frost and ice from the cold storage area

Bluebell Ice Cream manufacturing in Sylacauga, Alabama

appeared on the front lawn and attracted attention from First Baptist Day Care children who were given free popsicles as “Frosty” melted quickly in the July heat.  Then the children were allowed to make snowballs and do what all children like to do with them. Other employees made a 43-gallon banana split, enough to feed more than 1,000 people.  There was an ice cream eating contest at 5:00 pm, and each contestant had a spoon and a half a gallon carton. Some 2,000 balloons were released during the day with coupons inside for free or discounted ice cream.  What fun! At the various ice cream plants that have been in Sylacauga, the constants that have remained seem to be: good management/employees with pride in their products and their work ethics, (and delicious ice cream)!                                                                             

Tim Brown in a story in Dairymen News says, “Dairymen operates the coldest “highrise” in Sylacauga, Alabama, where employees stack Flav-O-Rich ice cream products four pallets high in a 5,000 square foot high rise storage room where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero.” This week when I spoke to a former Flav-O-Rich employee, he remembered the furry, thick coats employees who worked in cold storage had to wear. The routine was 30 minutes in and 30 minutes out of the room, but sometimes maintenance employees had to work inside this cold for longer periods of time to get a job done.                                                                                      

So many good stories and so many good people connected with Flav-O-Rich, but sometimes circumstances dictate change. The headlines in The Local Issue and a story written by Tom Roberts dated Tuesday, February 13, 1996, reads “Flav-O-Rich to cease Sylacauga Operations Feb. 29th.”This was somewhat of a surprise since the plant underwent a $3million expansion in 1994 that had doubled the production capacity. Roberts went on to say in the article that the reason cited by company officials for the closure was that this plant was operating under capacity.                                                                                                                           

People in Sylacauga were devastated, especially the more than 136 workers who would be without a job. The Sylacauga community rose to the occasion of problem solving like a group of Baptists searching for a new pastor: they formed a committee. This group was comprised of representatives from Flav-O-Rich, the Industrial Development Board, the Utilities Board, Sylacauga City Council, Mayor’s office, Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce, Talladega County Economic Development office, and others. They brainstormed, advertised, made telephone calls, and sent out fliers. Time flew by and hope dimmed until one call changed it all.                        

Sylacauga Today, Wednesday, November 20, 1996, reported: “That phone call was made by Pete Moore, Operations Manager for Flav-O-Rich, and the magnitude of what followed still has Sylacaugans commenting in amazement. Pete simply picked up the telephone, called Information, and asked for the telephone number for Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham, Texas, and made an unsolicited call to offer an ice cream plant for sale. It seems that Blue Bell representatives had thrown away the flyer that was sent to them, so Pete convinced them that Sylacauga was worth their taking another look.”  This is the affirmation for the old saying, “It never hurts to ask” because Blue Bell visited, worked out the details for the purchase, and came to Sylacauga. After more construction, the new owners hired approximately 300 employees from the area.                                                                                                                                                 

Pete Moore, I hope Sylacauga never forgets what you did because you cared about the employees who worked for you and were moved to action by their tears as they visited your office about the plant closing.  Pete was the “Hometown Hero of the Year” for Sylacauga that year, according to Sylacauga Today, and he and his wife, Marty, were honored at the Christmas parade as Pete was Grand Marshall.                                                                                                             

Next week will finish up this current series of articles on ice cream in Sylacauga with a word from Blue Bell.  Meanwhile, I have to get to the Piggly Wiggly and get my Homemade Vanilla for Labor Day.  Until then, eat lots of ice cream, and remember the lesson from Pete Moore. It’s action, not talk, that gets the job done. Caring about others, like good ice cream, is what I love about Sylacauga.