If, as poet Wallace Stevens suggested, “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream,” then Sugar Bowl founder Jack Huntress was a very important man.
Huntress opened the Sugar Bowl on Christmas Eve 1958, a date that seems especially appropriate given the ice cream parlor’s concerted effort to provide a family-friendly atmosphere. During the 1950s, Scottsdale was emerging as a tourism destination with a bustling arts and culture scene. Businesses were quickly populating the downtown area and Scottsdale boasted a number of eateries including the Red Dog Saloon, the Pink Pony and Lulu Belle. The gilded Lulu Belle was a Gay Nineties (1890s) extravaganza that functioned as both a nightclub and restaurant. With “the longest bar in Scottsdale” and an exuberant display of dance-hall-costumed waitresses and red velvet, Lulu Belle positioned itself as the premier cocktail lounge in Scottsdale. These businesses capitalized on the newly established glamour of Scottsdale. Their influence grew with Scottsdale. Not only did Scottsdale increasingly become a tourist destination, but also it's population exploded in the 1960s. The city's population grew from less than 11,000 in 1960 to more than 67,000 folks in 1970.
One evening after hearing patrons at Lulu Belle grumble about the fact that it was not an appropriate place to take children, Jack Huntress realized that Scottsdale had no restaurant that catered to families. A family-oriented restaurant would fill a vacant niche in the community and, by catering to an underserved market, would potentially be quite profitable. The restaurant industry flourished in the years immediately following World War II as a healthy economy put everyday luxuries like dining out within reach of more Americans. Nationwide, the number of meals served in restaurants tripled from 20 million meals a day before the war to 60 million meals a day after the war. However, by the beginning of the 1950s the restaurant industry was beset by new fears that American families were eschewing dining out in favor of eating at home in the company of their newly purchased black-and-white television sets.
The National Restaurant Association hoped to spark new enthusiasm for the restaurant experience by commissioning songs like "Pass the Meat, Pass the Potatoes" (1951) and "Let's Go Out to a Restaurant" (1953). The immediate popularity of the Sugar Bowl suggests that, in Scottsdale at least, families were only too happy to dine out when given the opportunity to do so in a venue that welcomed children.
It was this quality that separated the Sugar Bowl from other Scottsdale businesses and led to it becoming a community institution. Working there eventually became a high school rite of passage and the restaurant’s cotton-candy pink exterior became a comfortable and familiar part of Scottsdale’s landscape. As the decades passed, the Sugar Bowl actively participated in the creation of a sense of nostalgia for the past. It has changed little over the years in both décor and menu—and, indeed, the Huntress family still owns and operates it. Indeed, nostalgia is one of Scottsdale’s most valuable industries. It is the sense of permanence and stability, the sense that it is the site of memories forged long ago and the site of those forged today, that has led to the Sugar Bowl’s continued success.