One by one they stepped up to a counter worn smooth by a million wipings to ask why the Hollywood landmark--a place that has launched thousands of romances--was closing.
Jo Ellen Schumacher didn’t even try Thursday to fudge her answer.
After 90 years, C.C. Brown’s ice cream parlor is locking its doors because it can no longer operate as a family business.
The venerable shop, revered by chocolate lovers as the birthplace of the hot fudge sundae, still makes its fudge the old-fashioned way: in copper kettles brought to Los Angeles in a covered wagon.
C.C. Brown’s joins a growing list of landmark Los Angeles-area restaurants that have shut down, the victims of changing tastes and a challenging economy. In just the past year, Chasen’s in Beverly Hills, Shain’s in Sherman Oaks and Ship’s coffee shops in West Los Angeles and Culver City have closed.
Since its start in 1906, C.C. Brown’s has been a family affair.
Candy maker Clarence Clifton Brown passed the shop in 1924 to his son, Cliff, and the store moved from downtown Los Angeles to 7007 Hollywood Blvd. five years later. In 1963, Cliff Brown sold out to his friend, Carnation dairy chemist John Schumacher.
Schumacher’s eight children virtually grew up in the ice cream parlor. As babies they slept in the tall, black-walnut booths that lined the place. As they grew older they did their homework in a “family booth” near the back between stints cleaning tables, working as cashiers and scooping ice cream.
But they’re adults now. “And they’re all pursuing their own careers,” said Jo Ellen Schumacher, who has operated the place with part-time help from her children since her husband, John, died two years ago.
“No one in the family wants to keep running it.”
The kids plan to return Saturday to help serve C.C. Brown’s last sundaes--and to reminisce with customers who may have sneaked their first kiss over a double-scoop “Buster Brown” banana split a half-century ago.
“It’s terribly sad. My husband and I came here when we were dating. We’ve been married 31 years,” said Sherman Oaks resident Patt Bennett. She was introducing her in-laws, Suzanne and Larry Lucero of Denver, to the famous fudge.
A few booths away, Roy Hellrigel of North Hollywood was licking the spoon after polishing off a Buster Brown. He said he would miss both the sundaes and the Schumachers.
“I’ve watched this family grow up,” Hellrigel said. From across the table, friend Byron Van Gasken, also from North Hollywood, nodded.
“Kids today don’t want to do what dad did,” Van Gasken said. “Passing a business from generation to generation is not an American tradition anymore. Everybody wants to do their own thing.”
The Schumachers agree. The children have scattered throughout California and Hawaii and work at a variety of jobs.
“We’re all involved in our own lives now,” said Heather Schumacher, a 26-year-old film studio records analyst who lives in Calabasas. “It was a mutual decision to close.”
Her sister, Heidi S. Christopher, 28, a Calabasas chiropractor, said her parents never tried to steer the children into the sundae business. “They always encouraged us to go to college,” she said.
The family decided against selling C.C. Brown’s to an outsider for fear that a newcomer would abandon the secret hot fudge recipe invented by Clifton Brown for a thinner, commercially made fudge. They plan to continue cooking up hot fudge to sell in stores and by mail.
Tim Schumacher, 30, also a Calabasas chiropractor, said the copper kettles that Clifton Brown started with will still be used to prepare the hot fudge.
He credited family members’ involvement for keeping C.C. Brown’s alive this long.
Over the years, the place was popular with celebrities and those looking for a snack after a night out at the movies. But patronage slipped when rival ice cream stores opened in the 1980s. Only the family’s tenacity kept the store open. C.C. Brown’s eventually survived what some dubbed the “cold war,” however, beating both Haagen-Dazs two doors away and Ben and Jerry’s down the street, Tim Schumacher said.
Jo Ellen Schumacher, 53, also a Calabasas resident, acknowledged disappointment that the business isn’t being handed down to another generation.
“We always in the back of our minds wanted one of the kids to take it over,” she said. “But whatever the kids want to do, I’m totally behind them.”
For Saturday’s midnight closing, relatives such as Brian Lang, 24, a cousin from Birmingham, Ala., have come to lend a hand. Lang said he is surprised at the number of old-timers who have stopped in this week to tell him how much C.C. Brown’s means to them.
And he said he has already put on 15 pounds snacking on sundaes.