It’s been more than 30 years since the legendary part of Pittsburgh’s food scene faded away from its landmark location on Boulevard of the Allies. But when you hear native Pittsburghers talk about historic ‘happening’ food scenes that represent more than just a ‘grabbing something to eat’ kinda place, you’ll most certainly hear a story or two or maybe ten about Isaly’s, the famous dairy that offered chipped ham and legendary Skyscraper Cones formed by special spoons. Oh, and the Klondike ice cream bar also took its wrapped-in-chocolate shape at Isaly’s, it’s just that only few people know about it because corporate transitions erased all signals tracing Klondikes back to Isaly’s.
What’s in the name? It’s a family name. William Isaly founded the company in 1902 in Ohio, the Pittsburgh branch was established 30 years later by his son Henry. To remember the name and help people with the spelling of Isaly’s a marketing campaign suggested a read-out — I Still Always Love You Sweetheart.
Pittsburgh loved it back.
“During the ’40s, ’50s and ’60,” according to The Pittsburgh Press, “It was not uncommon on Saturday and Sunday evenings for hundreds of parents with anxious youngsters in tow from throughout the Tri-State area to queue up at Isaly’s 40-yard-long front counter.
The visitors would park their cars in Isaly’s huge lot and scurry inside to wait patiently for up to 30 clerks — many of whom were working their way through college — to scoop up their favorite delicacies.”
When the Oakland location was shutting down, one loyal visitor shook his head in disbelief: “I don’t understand it. I’ve been coming in here for over 40 years. My father brought me here for ice cream when I was about 5 years old.”
Isaly’s purists saw it coming. The demise started in the 1970s, they say, when Isaly’s stopped making its famous dairy products at its Oakland headquarters. It really started going down when the ownership changed and new management sold the Boulevard of the Allies property to Presbyterian-University for $3.3 million.
The Making of an Ice Cream Cone was an undertaking which required skill and precision, it was a challenge to “create a perfectly symmetrical, tall, creamy cylinder that could be slipped into the cone — without tipping over.” It had to be scooped out “just right.”
A key to success was the unusually shaped scoop with Isaly’s label on the handle. For a long time, legend had it that after the family sold the stores, they buried the original scoops behind the Boulevard of the Allies headquarters in fear that they will be stolen. So, the grandfather of the family and his close colleagues buried them, allegedly at the spot that has been serving as a parking lot. That legend is impossible to check on — there is a parking lot at the location indeed. What’s underneath? Who knows…