Ask wife Mary and she will tell you that Stratton Leopold has a passion for washing soda fountain glasses, be it at home or work at the nearly century-old Leopold’s Ice Cream in Savannah, GA.
He also has a passion for making movies.
Leopold, when he’s not creating spectacular banana splits or hand-dipping double scoops of mocha chocolate chip ice cream into cones for patrons who line up daily out the door of the little ice cream parlor/lunch shop, is a freelance Hollywood producer and former executive vice president of production at Paramount Pictures. He has also worked as an actor, casting director, executive and production manager during his long and successful career. Among his recent projects are “Parker,” “Captain America: the First Avenger” and “Mission: Impossible III.”
But the little ice cream shop…now, that’s where his heart is — and that’s something special, indeed.
Leopold grew up in the ice cream business and is devoted to maintaining the high level of quality that his family always upheld. You’ll find him behind the counter whenever he has a break from his film production work. Count on a smile across his face, especially if he’s washing glasses.
“Everything is handmade by us,” Leopold says. “Even the syrups and the sauces, the toppings and the fudge (author’s humble opinion: the best hot fudge sundae ever).
There is a long list of ice cream flavors that are always available — of course, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry lead the list, but other temptations abound such as lemon custard, tutti-frutti and rum bisque — which were favorites in his father’s day. Then there’s the list of seasonal indulgences: frozen hot cocoa, Guinness, huckleberry cheesecake and rose petal among them.
At lunch, sandwiches are served on fresh-baked whole wheat-berry bread with lettuce, spread with mayonnaise or mustard and served with a side of chips or homemade pasta salad. Daily arrays of hearty soups are freshly made from scratch.
The shop is small but reminiscent of an earlier age when sweet shops were the place to hang out; this is very close to the feel of the original Leopold’s Ice Cream Parlor, which was always a popular destination for generations of people after they attended concerts, dances and football games.
The history of the Leopold’s Ice Cream dates back to the 1900s, when immigrant brothers George, Peter and Basil Leopold arrived in this country from Greece. An uncle who had already settled in America trained them in the art of making sweets. The brothers went on to create their own secret formulas and were best known for Leopold’s VeriBest™ ice cream. They opened their own place at Gwinnett and Habersham streets in Savannah in 1919.
After years of steady business, Leopold’s Ice Cream found the fate of so many sweet shops and ice cream parlors. Leopold’s Ice Cream faded and had to close up shop in 1969. Stratton, the youngest child of Peter Leopold, kept many of the original fixtures in storage while he pursued a Hollywood career, at first doing smaller behind-the-scenes roles such as location manager for “The Big Chill” and casting director for “Wise Blood.” He even acted in a few films and can be seen associating with a zombie-like alien in John Carpenter’s “They Live!”
“But I always loved the family business,“ Leopold said. It was simply too good to let go.
On August 18 of 2004, Leopold and his wife Mary reopened Leopold’s Ice Cream. The new location is on downtown Savannah’s Broughton Street with an interior designed by Dan Lomino, the Academy Award-nominated art director for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Many of the original fixtures Leopold had kept were used, including the black marble soda fountain and wooden interior phone booth. Despite its wonderful old-fashioned flair, it has a very modern and an unusual touch – posters and props from Leopold’s film career.
Leopold is now both renovating the old location for use as a new retail outlet and also establishing a new manufacturing site where Leopold’s Ice Cream products can be produced with the goal of shipping them via mail order.
Credit: Patricia Mack