(MyFoxBoston.com) – Although many locations were forced to close, Friendly's Ice Cream is in the process of re-opening some of its doors throughout New England. The chain restaurant has a whole new menu, a new Fribble, and a whole new refreshing look.
FOX 25's Mark Ockerbloom toured the factory in Wilbraham and got a first-hand peek at one of the new establishments.
Friendly's has been an iconic brand name synonymous with ice cream and has been serving up scoops to families since 1935. Until recently, when Friendly's hit a rough patch and was forced to close more than 400 New England shops, eliminate hundreds of employees, and file for bankruptcy.
However, 2013 is a new year and Friendly's is stepping it up. They are emerging from financial troubles with a new CEO and a new menu which is being unveiled at several restaurants across New England.
"Friendly's came out of bankruptcy quickly and is in a much better place today than it was then," Friendly's new CEO John Maguire told FOX 25.
Maguire, a Weymouth native, ended a successful 19-year career at Panera Bread to turn Friendly's around.
"I gotta tell ya, this doesn't look like the Friendly's that I grew up with. I mean they weren't bad, but this is really stunning," Maguire said. "We came up with a few very concrete things that were musts. We had to have great people, and they had to deliver a great guest experience driven by speed. We found out we were slow, our food quality had to be improved and, lastly, quite frankly, our restaurants were dirty. So what we've done here now is the process of fixing all of those problems making Friendly's relevant in the 21st century."
Friendly's has also redone its menu, adding new items and improving the quality of their food. They've remodeled the restaurants and brought back what they call their timeless look, including Friendly's iconic color – red. They have also changed the music which will hopefully create a more inviting atmosphere for guests.
"I'm confident if we ask our customers to come back and give us another shot, we will really deliver that guest experience. People will keep coming back for generations to come," Maguire said.
Friendly's rich heritage, combined with its history, is what keeps customers rooting for Friendly's. The restaurant was founded in 1935 by the Blake Brothers who started the chain with $500 they had borrowed from their parents.
At one time, there were over 800 Friendly's locations. Today, there are 361 locations up and down the East Coast with 60 restaurants in Massachusetts alone. There are still over 17,000 people who work for the company, many of which are at the restaurant's headquarters in Wilbraham.
"We literally get fresh milk in from local dairies in here seven days a week that goes into the manufacturing of all our ice cream," Maguire told Ockerbloom during a tour.
The process starts with milk and cream delivered from local dairy farms. It is then turned into mix where they add chocolate, vanilla and other various ingredients to their appropriate mixes.
All the Friendly's favorites are made in Wilbraham, from Watermelon rolls to Oreo Cookie cakes, as well as all 53 retail ice cream flavors and toppings.
"Our hot fudge formula is over 40 years old, we make our own whipped topping, we make our own marshmallow topping, pineapple topping and it speaks again to the great lengths we go to really make sure our ice cream is better than anyone else's," Maguire said.
Friendly's has already remodeled 10 locations from Maine to Springfield and they are in the process of opening 40 more in the greater Boston area. They expect their ice cream to be in well over 8,000 grocery stores by the end of 2013.