The untold truth of Friendly's

If you've been to the East Coast, you've probably come across a Friendly's or two. The popular franchise has hundreds of locations in the United States. While it has faced some troubles in the decades since it was first founded, Friendly's is still a beloved restaurant chain. Perhaps even more popular than its restaurants is its ice cream products, which are distributed in supermarkets mainly in the Northeast. Whether you love Friendly's or aren't fortunate to live near one, you'll be fascinated by the company's story.

It was started by two brothers during the Great Depression

Prestley Blake was just 20 years old when he and his 18-year-old brother, Curtis, borrowed $547 from their parents to open a neighborhood ice cream shop. It was 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, and it was difficult for the brothers to find jobs. Their mother, Ethel, suggested they go into business for themselves after reading about a new freezer technology.

"Our whole family had a passion for ice cream," Curtis later said. The Blake brothers sold double-dip ice cream cones for 5 cents each, which was half of what the competition charged at the time. Before long, people were lining up for Friendly Ice Cream.

The original location didn't serve food

While Friendly's is known today as a restaurant, the original location didn't serve any food at all. For five years, it operated solely as an ice cream shop. The demand for their ice cream grew and so, in 1940, the Blake brothers opened a second location with an expanded menu. The first food item they added was the Friendly burger, which was followed up the next year with a sundae called the "One Dandy Split,"

It temporarily closed during WWII

Friendly's shut down operations in 1943, in the middle of World War II, in order to help the war effort. The brothers put signs up on their buildings letting people know they were closed for business and that the buildings were not available for rent as they planned to reopen "when we win the war." They finally reopened in 1945, after the war ended.

It was originally called Friendly

Prestley said that Curtis was the one to name the business Friendly Ice Cream. "We were two friendly guys and we wanted our little store to be a friendly place," he said in his autobiography. In 1979, the Blake brothers sold their company to Hershey's for $164 million. Less than ten years later, Hershey's sold the company for an even greater profit. It was the new owner who decided to change the name of the brand. For decades, the chain was known as Friendly, but by the late 1980s the company had changed their name to Friendly's.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2011

The business hit a low point in 2011 when they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to Forbes, "The company cited general economic malaise, rents above current fair market rates, and the increased cost of commodities, specifically cream, as the primary reasons for this action." Friendly's was forced to close many of its locations, but has been making a steady comeback since filing for bankruptcy.

The business split apart its founders

Going into business with a friend or a family member is not always the best idea. This is something the Blake brothers learned the hard way. By the 1970s, they were fighting over the direction of the company. Curtis believed Prestley was being too conservative with their spending and keeping the company from growing even larger. The dispute is a large part of the reason they decided to sell the company to Hershey's.

One of the founders tried to regain control of the company

By the late 1990s, the company began to falter. Prestley, who was saddened to see what was becoming of the company he once owned, began to buy up shares of Friendly's. "It's my baby," he told The Boston Globe. "You can't forget it. When you work so long and hard for a company and had high principles, you can't let it go."

In 2003, Prestley filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that they misused company funds. This caused another rift between the two brothers as Curtis believed the lawsuit would damage business further. "My brother forgot we sold the company," he said. "He used to call Hershey's regularly and with Smith he did the same thing. My brother never wanted to let go."

The Honey BBQ Chicken Melt is their most popular dish

Friendly's may have started as an ice cream joint, but most customers aren't going to Friendly's for a sundae. According to People, Friendly's best-selling menu item is their Honey BBQ Chicken Melt. The mouthwatering sandwich features chicken tenders, cheese, and bacon, slathered with ranch dressing. 

They hold a Guinness World Record

Friendly's holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest ice cream party. The party was held in celebration of Friendly's 78th birthday in 2013. There were 794 guests at the party, including 98 (and a half) year old co-founder Prestley Blake. "We are just so happy to be here," said his wife, Helen. "And what is better on a 100-degree day than Friendly's ice cream."

The party broke the previous world record of 740 guests.

They're adding drive-throughs

As part of the company's restructuring following their 2011 bankruptcy, Friendly's has decided to add drive-throughs to their locations. They've also lowered their prices, in the hopes of drawing in more customers. "We've done a lot of work on the quality of our food — never frozen burgers, real ice cream in our Fribble shakes," said President and CEO John Maguire "The next thing we really did was focus on remodeling our restaurants." The company has plans to open five to ten restaurants each year beginning in 2019.