Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Dinger

Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia--one of my fondest memories was heading out with my parents, or our childhood friends, for a visit to Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy. The All Natural Ice Cream Store which was located on Columbia Pike at Bailey's Crossroads. Long gone today from that location (replaced by Townhouses), Gifford's still exists with parlors in Washington, DC and Suburban Maryland. And, when Our Washington Nationals sent out a press release two days ago--announcing that Gifford's had partnered with Centerplate for a New Ice Cream Sandwich--appropriately named "The Dinger" at New Nationals Park--all those past recollections sharing Ice Cream at Gifford's, returned and flooded my mind.

A traditional local store was not only maintaining their presence but improving on it. Living in DC all my life--most all of the local stores I grew up with have now long since gone away--as mergers, changing business plans and the homogenization of America continues to spread. And in this day and age, it is pleasant to still be able to enjoy something tangible from my past. Wal-Mart can provide me with stuff, but the Arkansas based Mega Retailer doesn't serve up fond memories. Gifford's does.

So you know--I wasn't going to miss the photo opportunity scheduled for this evening at the DC Gifford's--555 11th Street, NW (one half block from ESPN Zone). Pitchers Mike Bascik and Tim Redding were on hand to serve ice cream to patrons. And, Gifford's Chief Executive Officer--Neal Lieberman was on hand to introduce his creation: "The Dinger". A Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich wrapped around two Real Chocolate Cookies--no junk.

Also, Principal Owner Marla Lerner Tanenbaum was in attendance. Not only because of the Gifford's/Nationals/Centerplate agreement, but also because 15% of all proceeds on sales of "The Dinger" will go toward The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. Our Washington Nationals Charity Organization for Kids that Mrs. Tanenbaum Chairs.

While Bascik and Redding served up Ice Cream ("The Dinger" is not available just yet--as the packaging for the product is going to final print)--Mr. Lieberman shared some time with me about his creation and his excitement over Gifford's new business partners--Our Washington Nationals and Centerplate.

With that, here we go with my chat with Neal Lieberman, CEO of Gifford's.

Right off the bat—what is the story on THE DINGER? (SBF)

“THE DINGER!!!!” (Laughing). I really wanted to come up with something that was a signature item. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I heard about The Fenway Frank (Boston), The Dodger Dog (Los Angeles)—there were all kinds of food products that were specific to a stadium. So, I thought of “The Dinger” as a good vernacular for the home run, and it sounded like an Ice Cream Sandwich to me.”

Did you approach The Nationals or did they approach you? (SBF)

“Yes, we talked to The Nationals. It is a good fit. We are a True Washington Brand. We have been around for 70 years (1938). And, we wanted to be apart of something that is real Washington. A part of our strategy is to be a Washington Institution. You look around our stores—we always do our photography with The Washington Monuments in the background. We just opened a shop in The U.S. Capitol Building, in the House (Office) Building. So, this (working with The Nationals) was something we really wanted to do.”

“And with “The Dinger”, it would be a nice thing to give a portion of the proceeds (15%) to The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. Our goal is to not only sell it (“The Dinger”) at the park, but also in our stores and grocery stores and other places as well. Hopefully, we will generate a lot of funds for The Foundation too.”

Will Gifford’s also be selling other Ice Cream Products at New Nationals Park? (SBF)

“Yeah (excited), we are going to have a full scoop shop. We are going to have Sundaes, Scooped Ice Cream, Milk Shakes and everything at the park.”

So, it will be a regular store? (SBF)

“Yes, it will be a regular store. We are just trying to figure out, and its the biggest challenge so far, the limiting of number of flavors—because we want to be able to move the people through the lines. Everyone has their personal favorites, depending on who is in on the discussion—trying to narrow down the choices (both of us chuckling) on flavors. It’s Tough!! But, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“We were just out there a few days ago (at the ballpark), measuring for the dipping cabinet and where we are going to put the milk shake machine, and all that (and Curly 'W' Helmet Sundaes).”

Is there just going to be one Gifford’s Store at the park? (SBF)

“There is be One Concession (Store), but we shall have several carts throughout the park. At those carts, we will just sell the novelty items. We will have “The Dinger” there. Probably, we will also have ice cream bars.”

What is the price point on “The Dinger”? (SBF)

“We don’t know yet. We are working that out with The Nationals and Centerplate.”

How many are you going to prepare for each game? (SBF)

“Don’t know. We will probably make 100,000 of them. We are not quite sure how many we are going to fly through each game, hopefully, a lot.”

4.25 OZ, that’s fairly big. (SBF—laughing)

“Yes, yes it is!!” (Laughing along with me)

By making “The Dinger” for The Nationals—is this a new product or a variation of something from the past? (SBF)

“This is brand new. Yeah, we just made it. The challenge for us at Gifford’s is that we are all natural. So, we had to find an all-natural cookie to make the ice cream sandwich. That was the real challenge. Most ice cream sandwiches are those chocolate wafers. There is usually a lot of junk in them. But, ours is a real chocolate cookie (on both sides), it’s not a wafer. It will be good.”

What came first—“The Dinger” or your position at New Nationals Park? (SBF)

“Honestly, I think it was kind of a combination. Part of this effort was moving forward on creating “The Dinger”. When we first started working on this proposal, I said let’s create that signature food item that I was talking about, and we were not sure they (The Nationals) wanted a scoop shop in the park, or right outside the park.”

I grew up with your stores. During my younger and teen years, we basically lived at Gifford’s in Bailey’s Crossroads (VA). (SBF)

“Do you have any pictures of it?”

Not that I can recall, although I can see it vividly in my mind, why? (SBF)

“I am looking for pictures of that store. Nobody has pictures of that store. (Really? —SBF). I have asked EVERYBODY. People who went there—and no one seems to have taken of picture of it.”

You know that Gifford’s then was just one block up the road from Hot Shoppes. (SBF)

“Hot Shoppes, yeah—the same in Bethesda (MD). There was one also in Arlington on Lee Highway. Its now Joe’s Pizza and Pasta. Our people have pictures of all the stores, except for the Bailey’s one. I am looking for them—everywhere.”

I will ask around. (SBF)

“There will be FREE ICE CREAM FOR LIFE for whomever can come up with that photograph!!” (He was serious)

You know I am writing that in my story? (SBF)

“Write it in the story!! WRITE IT IN THE STORY!! (Smiling and laughing and enjoying the moment).”

Well this is my picture of The Bailey's Crossroads Store--which I sent to Neal.

I don’t know if you read many of the online threads involving The Nationals, but the very moment The Nationals sent out the press release for this event and “The Dinger”—the comments started piling in all over. Many fans seem quite pleased that your company is coming on board, and not just for some of that generic stuff. (SBF)

“That’s great to hear. I haven’t seen any of that yet, but its good to know that folks want to have fresh and natural ice cream products."

Real pleasure meeting you. (SBF) "Likewise, we are going to have fun."

That concludes my chat with Neal Lieberman, Creator of "The Dinger" and CEO of Gifford's Ice Cream and Candy Stores.

Not only was I pleased to see Gifford's--a true local company--get involved with Our Washington Nationals, but today's photo op takes every fan one step farther into seeing Centerplate's efforts coming to life in creating a fun and enjoyable environment around concessions at New Nationals Park. The more diversified the new stadium becomes, the better pleasure for everyone.

Today was a good step--in the right direction.

Gotta Have "The Dinger"!!

PS--Also, Our Washington Nationals were handing out to Gifford's Patrons this new 50's/60's Style 3D view booklet of New Nationals Park. The brochure came with those specially colored glasses seen in years past. Cool.

More Photos from tonight's event:

Mike Bascik helping a young fan

Miss Chatter producing another "NatsChats"

SBF with Mike Bascik

Finally--the pictures shown of "The Dinger" are the actual packaging that will appear on the product.


Anonymous said...

Great story Jeff. You've got me craving ice cream!

Anonymous said...

Ice cream when the temp is 25 degrees? Can't the Nats' marketing dept. do better than that. They should have held the event at Ben's "Hot" Chili Bowl. Or, maybe the Lerner's own a piece of Giffords? That would explain it.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Falls Church, I have many memories of going to the Gifford's on Lee Highway in Arlington. It was just a few blocks south/west of the intersection with Harrison Street. My parents took my siblings and me there after every Kindergarten graduation, first communion, school play or band concert, etc. My most vivid memories are of how crowded, noisy, and cold it was inside that place. But we all loved going there.

paul said...

GREAT story. What's more American than ice cream and baseball? Growing up in suburban NY, we had Carvel's, whose spokesman was a gravelly voiced man, Tom Carvel, who did his own TV spots. They were so amateurish that they were charming, and the ice cream and ice cream cakes in his stores were terrific. You have brought back a lot of great memories!

I propose everyone go for a Dinger during a game when the Nats take the lead with their own dinger.

Anonymous said...

MMM Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich!!! Looks like I will be spending money on concessions at Nationals Park unlike I did at RFK!

Anonymous said...

Ben's Chili Bowl would be fun, but knowing DC winter weather, the temperature would probably be about 75 degrees...

Edward J. Cunningham said...

Ice cream when the temp is 25 degrees? Can't the Nats' marketing dept. do better than that?

They aren't playing baseball now, either. When baseball season opens, the temperature will be considerably warmer than 25 degrees.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

BTW, I went to the Giffords store in downtown Bethesda. (Circling the area looking for a parking space gave me good practice for when baseball season begins.) Unfortunately, this store wasn't selling The Dinger and the clerk was clueless as to what I was talking about. I assume that eventually this will be sold at all Giffords' stores in the Washington area, though...

Screech's Best Friend said...

Eddie: The Dinger is not available just yet. At the photo op last thursday night, only the packaging with picture was shown. The Dinger will Premiere at New Nationals Park for the first game.

Pinhigh Sue said...

For fans who have wept over the freezer burnt novelty "ice cream" at RFK, having real ice cream at Nats games is a HUGE win! Plus, bully for the Nats and the Lerners for supporting DC's local brands.