The Beachcomber

Kohr Soft Ice Cream Celebrates 100 Years

By PAT JOHNSON | May 24, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Paul Kohr looks over a book about his family’s history in the Ice Cream business.

Little Egg Harbor — Frozen custard – two words that bring back memories of sandy feet, sunburned backs and dripping ice cream down the front seat of your dad’s car.

Paul Kohr is one of the heads of the ice cream family that invented frozen custard. His family stretches back to before the Revolutionary War, and its ice cream legacy goes back 100 years. He and his wife, Eva, currently own and run the Kohr Soft Ice Cream shop on Route 9 in the Parkertown section of Little Egg Harbor. They used to own the Pine Cone ice cream stand for many years (1995-2012) but Paul’s main business for over 40 years was commercial refrigeration. In fact, it was his uncle’s prescience to purchase the patents of the Meisenhelter ice cream machine in 1920 that led to the frozen custard empire – at least 40 stores owned by various members of the Kohr family.

From his home on West Creek’s Dock Road, Kohr talked about his family tree and the intrigue that can crop up in family dynasties.

He is proud of his German Moravian roots centered in York County, Pa. – Pennsylvania Dutch country. His ancestors came from Germany in 1731 and some fought in the Revolutionary War under George Washington. The first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; Kohr believes the first capital of the United States was York, Pa., because the Articles of Confederation were signed in the York Courthouse there, where the Congress of the Colonials fled after the British took Philadelphia.

Kohr remembers walking in old cemeteries with his father and learning his family history from there and many other sources. In 1919, his father Morgan Julius Kohr, left his job as a schoolteacher in York and became an ambulance driver in France during World War I. “He drove four mules and a wagon with a red cross painted on it. They had to use mules because the terrain was pitted from bombs and shells.”

While Morgan was in France in 1918, his brother Elton purchased one Meisenhelter batch ice cream machine and sold ice cream and milk and other farm products from a horse and wagon that he drove around the area. It didn’t take long for Elton and brothers Archie and Lester Clair to decide that ice cream was their forte. So Elton purchased the patents and the wooden machine-patterns to make the ice cream batch machine. He also purchased the remaining machines from Meisenhelter and the brothers went big time, opening their first store in Coney Island in 1920. “At that time, the cones cost only 5 cents, 10 cents and 15 cents depending on how many scoops you wanted,” said Kohr. “At first it was only one flavor – usually vanilla – and later chocolate when he obtained a second machine, one flavor each.

“Customers said it was so light and fluffy, it tasted like custard,” said Kohr. That’s when the name frozen custard came into being, around 1922. The Kohr’s ice cream mix did include eggs until 1930, when they were taken out of the recipe.

“Archie, Lester Clair and Elton were The Original Kohr Brothers. Then Elton Kohr broke away from his brothers in 1922 and formed his own company, Kohr’s Frozen Custard, The Original. With Elton gone, the remaining two brothers operated the business by themselves until 1928.”

This is when Paul’s father, Morgan Julius, came into the business. After the war, Morgan Julius went to Pace and George Washington universities in Washington, D.C., and became an accountant. He worked for the federal government in what was at that time the forerunner of the Pentagon.

Then his brothers Archie and Lester asked him to join them as their treasurer and comptroller of the business, and being family, Morgan Julius returned to York and incorporated The Original Kohr Brothers in 1928.

Fast-forward and Paul Kohr was born into the dynasty. “When I was 12 years old, I was picking up one milk can in each hand to make the batch ice cream. One can weighed 135 pounds, and the other was 120 pounds. I was 6 feet tall in sixth grade.”

Paul said it’s the refrigeration system that makes frozen custard what it is. “I’m self-educated in refrigeration. And I learned electrical from an electrician and welding from an auto mechanic, Herman Strausbaugh, the owner of a garage, and I still see him when we visit York, Pa. He is 94 now.

“In 1930 the machines had belt-driven compressors and had chain-driven gear motors for dashers,” he said. Dashers are the metal paddles inside the machine that mix the ingredients.

“We originally made our own ice cream mix from super-heated condensed cream, homogenized cream, sugar and gelatin. Then in the 1950s the government made the dairies purchase a license, and if they were going to lay out money for that, we had to buy their mix as we were only customers for it.”

Because of the foresight of his Uncle Elton, nobody but the Kohr Ice cream dynasty had the patterns and specifications to make their frozen custard batch machines. And in 1962, the business was expanding so quickly that Elton had to make his own machines. He called on his nephew Paul, who was a refrigeration wiz. “I built two self-contained machines of my own design for Uncle Elton, and they worked so well that Kohr Brothers also ordered some machines – a total of 16 between them. The most I made at one time was four machines during one winter with the help of Elton Parsons and Leonard Kohr. The machine turned out 10 gallons of soft ice cream in 5½ minutes in scooped-ready condition.”

Paul then built two ice cream trailers and was a mainstay at fairs in Lancaster County for 50 years and also in the York inter-state fair. He also built up a big refrigeration business in Atlantic City in the years before casino gambling. He met many music stars in the nightclubs and Steel Pier. He had 10 men working for him and handled all refrigeration on the piers plus the fishing fleet. There were seven Kohr Brothers ice cream shops in Atlantic City at the time, including one on the Steeplechase Pier and another on the boardwalk where Caesar’s Palace was located.

Many more Kohr Brothers and Kohr’s Frozen Custard, The Original popped up in resorts in nine states. Paul was on the board of directors of Kohr Brothers until 2002.

Today at age 80, he’s still working with his wife of 37 years, Eva, in running the Kohr ice cream shop in Parkertown. The couple met as pen pals long before the internet and dating sites. Eva Kohr is an artist and poet and uses her skills to decorate custom ice cream cakes that are widely sold on Long Beach Island and, of course, from the shop. They have vanilla and chocolate soft-serve and make orange sherbet and vanilla twists. They also have 38 flavors of scooped ice cream made on the premises. Shakes, sundaes, sodas, water ices and sandwiches round out the menu in the shop, which is shaped like a pizza slice. (It was originally a pizza shop.)

“People tell us it’s the best ice cream around,” said Kohr. “I’m the last of the second generation that’s still active in the ice cream business,” he said, but the dynasty continues. “My cousins, Archie’s children and descendants and my Uncle Elton’s descendants run the other Kohr’s Frozen Custard businesses between them located in nine states.”

On May 17, Kohr Soft Ice Cream shop in Parkertown will host a 100th anniversary and offer free water ice all day and other specials. It’s been a sweet 100 years!

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