2022 marks the 100th Anniversary of Harry Burt opening his landmark location, known as Burt’s, at 325 West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. Throughout the next few months, MVHS will host a series of special events, programs, and these Time Capsule posts. Each Time Capsule will take a look at a different phase in Burt’s life and legacy as an innovative and impressive confectioner.
Stay tuned for each new post on the final Friday each month through August.
In 1906, Burt’s location on North Phelps Street in downtown Youngstown was a destination for chocolate, candy, and ice cream lovers. In addition to the confectionary side of the business, Burt expanded with a Soda Fountain and seating area for guests to sit and enjoy his high-quality products. Burt’s dedication to quality was a hallmark of his business model from the very first day he began producing goods. To Burt, sales were second to the excellence of the items he created. Here, Burt described that philosophy.
“I have touched upon the evolution of this business not only because I believed it would be generally interesting but also to emphasize that the present rather elaborate establishment has been made possible through the liberal appreciation of Youngstown people for the quality I have maintained from the very beginning. If anyone can show us how we can do better anything we are now doing, their ideas will be welcome, for we do know that this society appreciates the best in Services, and the very highest in Quality.”
That dedication to quality was well displayed when he first began selling ice cream. His ice cream sales were set to step on the toes of a local monopolist who warned, “look in tomorrow’s papers and you’ll see how long you stay in the ice cream business.” Burt priced his ice cream at 35 cents a quart, taking his competitor’s list price instead of figuring his actual costs. To this point, Burt had never done that. Cost and sales prices were not a focus of his in the early years.
Well, those papers the next day were filled with ads selling Bobolink’s famous Moo-Cow Ice Cream for 25 cents a quart, delivered anywhere in Youngstown. Burt was out sold. When he sat down to figure out the costs, he determined that each quart cost him 25 cents and he had to make a vital decision. He was making good quality ice cream, but he could not compete with Bobolink’s prices. But what if he made a better ice cream and sold it for more? He upped the butterfat to 25%, the highest amount that could be frozen through the churning process without becoming butter, and that better ice cream was born.
He took his new ads to the paper to read “Burt’s pure ice cream made from 25% butterfat cream, hereafter will be delivered to any part of the city for 60 cents a quart.” He gambled with the idea that consumers would pay more for a better product. The gamble paid off!
The people had never had ice cream like that and their curiosity took them to the cash register. And they kept on coming. Burt realized that by making a better product, he was making a better income – another trend that continued. Burt was constantly looking to better not only his competitor’s products but his own. The cost of materials and supplies didn’t matter, as long as they were the best and he could make the best. Some people may have been turned off by the high price, but his slogan “the taste lingers long after the price is forgotten” was certainly true.
Another element of his quality check was the reliance on his taste. His taste buds were well tuned and everything he made was determined by their approval. He even noted, “if sales fall off on any soda fountain, I’m almost positive, even before I investigate, that they are off my formula. I taste and tell, correct the dispenser and sales invariably start up again.” He was also incredibly hands-on with his dairy supply. Two Jersey cow dairy farms ran their operation based on his guidelines. One night, he had a cake from his bakery at home with his dinner and could tell that the frosting had a slight difference. He said, “tell them not to send me milk produced on days they disinfect.” He could taste the difference when no one else could. Sure enough, the butter made from that milk was produced on a day when the farm disinfected.
In addition to his milk guidelines, his chocolate standards were also very high. He used the highest grade cocoa for his soda fountains and had his chocolate maker blend his chocolate coatings 24 full hours longer than standard candy makers. Even when he could not get enough supplies, he never sacrificed quality. He explained, “I’m not producing machine made candies, I’m not after quantity – only quality.”
Not only was Burt’s ice cream department booming, so was his candy division. By 1910, Burt had introduced a Good Humor Candy Sucker – a classic hard candy sucker on a wooden stick. It was around this time, too, that he got a boost of really cheap labor in the factory – his son, Harry Jr., could be found turning the cranks in the ice cream freezer.
Harry Burt opened a store front in Warren in 1913 known as the Duchess Candy Shop. The building still maintains several of its original architectural features today. By 1914, the shop had moved across the street. It is unknown when that shop closed, but the Economos Family took over the property for their Saratoga Restaurant in 1959.
Burt’s business was booming. By the late 1910s, Burt set his sights on further expanding his product line and perfecting the problem that plagued ice cream eaters – messy hands! It was a fateful night in 1920 that Burt and his children worked on a chocolate coating that would change the ice cream world forever!
Check back next month as we explore some of Burt’s most famous innovations, including the Good Humor Ice Cream Sucker!