Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Oral History Project

 
 
About the Project
Interview Transcripts
Resources

About the Project

As part of an agreement with Gary Rogers and Rick Cronk, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) of the Bancroft Library conducted an oral history project to document the history of the Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Company. Under the direction of Vic Geraci, PhD, ROHO interviewed some of the key people who built its local, national, and international presence. For the project, ROHO conducted approximately 100 hours of interviews with the owners, investors, employees, and relevant individuals who helped make Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream an international brand between 1978 and 2006. Audio and videotaped interviews were transcribed, edited, and included on the ROHO website. All interviews conform to the protocols of the University of California's Office for the Protection of Human Subjects.

Photo of Gary Rogers and Rick Cronk
Gary Rogers and Rick Cronk

Historical Context

Photo of Dreyer's on College Avenue in 1960s
Dreyer's on College Avenue, 1960s

Photo of Dreyer's Headquarters, Present
Dreyer's Headquarters, Present

Over the past century and a half, California's coastal Mediterranean climate and irrigated inland valleys provided insightful entrepreneurs in the Golden State, and the Bay Area in particular, opportunities to become leaders in food and wine agribusinesses. As a result, the state served as the springboard for numerous food and wine businesses to establish profitable regional operations. By the twentieth century, these businesses emerged as integral parts of multi-national diversified corporations and key players in the global economy. Examples of these companies include: coffee giants Maxwell House, Hills Brothers, and Peet's; bread giant Boudin; Golden Grain Macaroni's Rice-a-Roni; chocolatiers Ghirardelli and Scharffenberger; and wine giants, including Gallo and Mondavi.

Yet, the story is somewhat bifurcated in that food became more than a business as it emerged as a marker for regional identity predicated upon enjoying fine local foods and imbibing world-class wines. The Bay Area's post World War II era also nurtured regional food educators and practitioners that elevated the status of the region's foodways. Herb Caen, Cecilia Chiang, Doris Muscatine, Narsai David, and Alice Waters, among others, became modern food pioneers dedicated to establishing a regional food identity. In the end, the best of the regional foodways became a focal point for businesspersons to grow local food businesses into profitable national and global brands.

Missing from the story is the role of Bay Area ice creams, such as Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, that played a vital role in this process. Dreyer's serves as an important case study for the route of developing a local business and growing it to the regional, state, national, and eventually global marketplace. Founded in 1928 and opened on Oakland's Grand Avenue, Dreyer's ice cream business survived the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II by producing quality ice cream and developing new brand awareness built upon their invention of Rocky Road ice cream. Over the next few decades Dreyer's became the largest American ice cream company and, in 1981, the corporation began to trade shares on the NASDAQ. The company's entrance into the global marketplace came in 2006 when Nestlé Corporation acquired 67 percent of their shares and thus became the world's largest producer of ice cream.

Project Team

Project Director and Interviewer
Victor W. Geraci was the Associate Director of ROHO and also served as the program’s Food and Wine Historian. Upon completing his Masters in Public History from San Diego State University (1992) he went on to complete his doctorate in American history from UC Santa Barbara (1997). Between 1997 and 2003, Geraci held positions as Assistant and later Associate Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. While at CCSU, Geraci served as the History Department’s Director of the Secondary History / Social Science Teacher Education program, taught upper division American history courses, and helped establish a Master’s Degree program in Public History where he taught the Introductory and Oral History courses. His main areas of research interest include American agriculture (Post-Civil War to Present) with specific focus on the California Wine Industry. In 2003, Geraci came to University of California Berkeley as a Food and Wine Historian/Specialist where he utilized oral and public history methodologies honed through projects involving Sicilian Immigration, alcoholic centers, local history, environmental organizations, vintner associations, forestry, and over forty years of secondary and university teaching and curriculum development. He has written journal articles and reviews in Gastronomica, Southern California Quarterly, Journal of Agricultural History, The Public Historian, JIWA, Connecticut History, and Journal of San Diego History. Geraci’s books include the Aged In Oak, The Lure of the Forest: Oral Histories from the National Forests in California, The Unmarked Trail: Managing National Forests in a Turbulent Era, Salud: The Story of the Santa Barbara Wine Industry, and the co-edited book Icons of American Cooking.

Interviewer
Robin Li was an Academic Specialist at ROHO and served as Director of the ROHO Advanced Oral History Summer Institute from 2010 through 2012. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, and her PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, both in American Culture. At Michigan, Li was the recipient of a Rackham Merit Fellowship as well as an AAUW American Fellowship. At the Regional Oral History Office, she worked on the following projects: Otto C.C. Lin: Promoting Education, Innovation, and Chinese Culture in the Era of Globalization; Taking the University to the People: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Oral History Project; and the Rosie the Riveter/WWII American Home Front Project.

Editor
Linda Norton is Senior Editor at ROHO where she has edited oral histories in many fields, curated ROHO’s fiftieth-anniversary exhibition, published a newsletter, and worked in Bancroft public services. She also contributed an interview to the centennial volume, Exploring the Bancroft Library. She is the author of The Public Gardens: Poems and History (Pressed Wafer, 2011; introduction by Fanny Howe), a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2012. Her work is included in three new anthologies: As If It Fell from the Sun (EtherDome, 2012); Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (PM Press, 2012); and New California Writing (Heyday Books, 2013). She has also done interviews for the NPR Storycorps Griot project and has been a Lannan Foundation artist in residence. She has been a guest speaker at Harvard, Brown, SF State, UC Boulder, and many other schools and universities. For more information, please go to thepublicgardens.blogspot.com.

Technologist
David Dunham is an Electronic Communication Specialist and Project Manager for ROHO. He managed the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front Oral History Project in collaboration with the National Park Service. David also directs the ROHO website, video production, and editing, transcription, and archiving of ROHO interviews. He is a documentary filmmaker, film festival manager, teacher, and 'Entotainment Guru' of the Bay Area.

 


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