In 1958, Scottsdale was in its infancy. It had only been incorporated for seven years, its population was less than 10,000, and its downtown still featured wooden sidewalks and hitching posts.
The Old Town of yesteryear may have been a radically different place to the one that residents know today, but at least one thing was nearly exactly the same: Sugar Bowl.
Scottsdale’s iconic ice cream emporium opened on the corner of Scottsdale and Indian School Roads on Christmas Eve 1958. Today, it stands with its signage, interior design and menu virtually unchanged.
When John and Marleen Van Cleve were young parents in the 1980s, they brought their kids to Sugar Bowl on hot summer afternoons after a vacation Bible school.
The couple still goes “about once a month,” and now they often bring their grandkids. On a Wednesday afternoon in October, they celebrated an out-of-towner friend’s birthday.
“If you didn’t know the upholstery must’ve been changed just because of wear, you wouldn’t be aware of it. It looks just the same,” John Van Cleve said.
Operating within a culture that champions constant change, growth and innovation, Sugar Bowl has remained tirelessly dedicated to staying the same for the past 61 years. For longtime owner, Carroll Huntress, that is a major part of its appeal.
“[People] are looking for stability, because everything is changing around us,” Huntress said.
Huntress has flirted with the idea of expanding the brand – he even opened a short-lived second location in Uptown Phoenix in the 1990s. But ultimately, he said the store is an entity that can’t be replicated. There can only be one Sugar Bowl.
“We’re a standalone, we really are,” Huntress said.
In an era where restaurants are clamoring to be as Instagrammable as possible, the Sugar Bowl has no social media presence. In fact, it doesn’t even have a deep-fat fryer. Those came into fashion in the 1960s, and the store never felt the need to accommodate the trend.
“We don’t even have a TV; I don’t want one,” Huntress said. “When people come in here, I want them talking to each other. I get a little incensed when I have the Mom and Dad and two kids and they’re all on their phones. They say, ‘Do you have Wi-fi in here?’ I say, ‘No, this is the Sugar Bowl.’”
The Sugar Bowl’s commitment to timelessness has garnered national attention. Huntress said he sits down for an interview with the media “about once a month.”
It is often written that the menu has – with the exception of its prices – been unaltered throughout its 61 years. This is true, but it is far from the only aspect of the operation that evokes a bygone era. The store is old school to its core.
Huntress owns 100 percent of exactly one restaurant: Sugar Bowl. He shows up to the place everyday and does “what is needed,” whether that’s waiting on a table, cleaning up a mess, or doing payroll.
An article from the Sept. 10, 1975, edition of The Scottsdale Daily Progress referenced an unnamed national publication’s prediction of the total eradication of the “Mamma and Papa” stores at the hands of large national chains.
The article’s author doesn’t “doubt for a moment” the impending demise of such stores, but takes a moment to pay homage to some of those “individual businesses” still standing at the time in Scottsdale. Naturally, he mentioned the then-17-year-old Sugar Bowl, which he called a “Scottsdale landmark.”
Carroll Huntress’s uncle, Jack Huntress, set out to give Scottsdale the affordable, family-friendly food destination he felt it lacked. In the 1980s, Carroll took over, and now, he said, his son is preparing to take the reins from him.
Despite the pessimistic predictions of the Progress’ former columnist, Scottsdale figures to have its family-run, throwback ice cream parlor for years to come.
Earlier this year, Sugar Bowl was inducted into the Scottsdale History Hall of Fame.
“It’s friendly, it’s family-oriented,” local historian Joan Fudala said. “It’s a place that feels really comfortable, whether you live here or you’re a visitor. It’s a real treasure for Scottsdale.”
As Scottsdale grapples with controversial changes in the form of high-rise hotels, marijuana dispensaries, and electric scooters, Carroll Huntress is working hard to maintain his unchanging portal into the past.
“It’s really difficult to do what we do here. It takes a lot of labor, a lot of being consistent because we don’t change,” Huntress said.