SAVANNAH, Georgia – When he’s not producing major Hollywood movies, Stratton
Leopold is scooping delicious ice cream at his family’s historic, old-fashioned
ice cream store here.
Leopold’s prodigious film credits include movies
like The Sum of All Fears, Mission: Impossible III, The General’s Daughter, and
the re-make of The Wolfman, but the noted producer has always loved the ice
cream business, dating back to when he worked as a soda jerk in the store his
Greek immigrant parents and uncles opened at Gwinnett and Habersham streets in
1919 and which he and his wife, Mary, now run at a new location on Broughton
As a youngster, Leopold washed glasses “at the very same soda
fountain that we have now, at around age eight or nine.” “It petrified my
mother,” he recalls, “because she was afraid I would break something and cut
His first paying job at the store was washing ice cream
“Back then,” he recalls, “when you made ice cream, you put it
in... metal churns, which were lined in parchment paper. They were five
gallons... fairly deep, so, with a long-handled brush, my job was scrubbing
those. I think I made 50 cents an hour.”
At 14, Leopold started scooping
ice cream, taught by fellow soda jerks. And after all his years of working in
Hollywood’s glitzy film world, making movies is still his “day job,” as he likes
to call it.
“[Working in the store] gets you close to people,” he says.
“Just to interact and talk to folks... if they’re visitors, where they’re
from... it’s a lovely way to spend a few moments.”
Leopold’s latest film,
, is an action flick set for release in September; among the cast members
are Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte and Patti LuPone.
Directed by Taylor Hackford, the movie was filmed mostly in New Orleans, with
other locations in Palm Beach, Boca and Sarasota, Florida, allowing Leopold to
get back to Savannah on weekends.
When you step into the historic
Savannah ice cream store, it quickly transports you back to the 1930s and ‘40s,
thanks in large part to Daniel A. Lomino, a friend of Leopold’s, nominated for
an Academy Award for Close Encounters of the Third Kind
, who worked on the
store’s interior for its new location at 212 East Broughton
Leopold has been faithful to his late father’s recipes, serving
one of the richest ice creams I’ve ever tasted, whether you choose caramel
swirl, huckleberry cheesecake, honey almond & cream, or any other wonderful
flavor. And on this note, Leopold and his wife proudly mention that their store
was recently named one of the 10 best ice cream shops in the world by
I happened to discover Leopold’s at the end
of a bus tour of Savannah’s famous movie locations. The city has often been
called “the Hollywood of the South,” and with good reason: its picturesque
public squares and memorable architectural gems have made it a movie director’s
dream-come-true, a kind of Hollywood backlot with places like Mercer House, the
mansion seen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
. One movie location in
town that also generates much attention is Chippewa Square, where the famous
park bench scene in the Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump
other side of the square stands the neo-Gothic home of Mikve Israel Synagogue,
the third-oldest Jewish congregation in America, whose historic artifacts
include an 18th-century deerskin Torah; letters to the congregation from
presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison; and an 18th-century circumcision
The Reform synagogue, now in its third home, was originally founded
in 1733 by a group of Sephardi Jews arriving from London.
architecturally-magnificent structure was built in 1876, the only synagogue in
America with a neo-Gothic style.
Each year, Mikve Israel holds the
“Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival” in Forsyth Park, drawing thousands, with
this year’s event scheduled for October 28.
On another historical note,
when General Sherman took Savannah during the American Civil War, the city
suffered serious food shortages, including the absence of matzah for Passover,
but the Jews of Philadelphia and New York, cities that were part of the Union
forces, stepped in to fill the gap.
From the vintage Coca-Cola logo to
the classic white paper caps worn by soda jerks, many of whom are college
students, Leopold’s is all about another time – in some ways, you might say,
recalling the producer’s own youth in Savannah, a period that he wistfully
remembers as “idyllic.”
It was also during this period that songwriter
Johnny Mercer would spend time in the store on visits to Savannah. Mercer, who
knew Leopold’s father, Peter, often said he wanted to write a song about Tutti
Fruitti ice cream, but this never came to pass.
In keeping with his work
in the movies, the producer also has added show biz memorabilia in the store,
like a Movieola editing machine; a Panavision camera; and the cane from The
, with its hidden sword.
This is all in addition to large posters
of some of the well-known movies he has worked on which you see on the wall upon
entering the store.
A more recent addition is a 1950’s Juke Box that Mary
bought him for his birthday and which customers can play – three songs for a
quarter or one for a dime! One of the store’s popular ice creams – Chocolate
Chewies and Cream – recalls a chapter from Savannah’s Jewish past.
background: the Chocolate Chewie was a cookie baked by Gottlieb’s, a Savannah
Jewish bakery opened in the 1890’s by Russian immigrants. The bakery has since
closed its doors, but Leopold remembers it with great fondness – “the
challahs... all their sweet rolls, their breads.”
These days, Leopold’s
is producing the Chocolate Chewies – “crispy on the outside and chewy on the
inside,” notes the producer – and mixing them up in parts in vanilla ice cream,
an ode, you might say, to the storied Savannah bakery that is no
The store’s newest tradition is a patriotic program called “I
Pledge for Ice Cream,” originally an idea proposed by one of Leopold’s
customers, an educator. Now in its third year, the “pledge” is simple enough:
any child 12 and under who can recite the pledge of allegiance gets a
certificate for a free ice cream cone.
The store even sets up a kind of
stage – complete with flag and dais – and the youngsters, accompanied by adults,
stand up and do their thing. In the first year alone, about 400 youngsters took
part in Savannah. Mary Leopold, who is on the board of the National Ice Cream
Retailers Association, entered the program in a national competition – and it
won first place.
Designed to coincide with July 4th, the patriotic
program also ties in with National Ice Cream Month in July, which was launched
by Ronald Reagan.
“All we want is for every ice cream shop in the country
to just do it,” Leopold says.
Ice cream stores in other cities now
participating in the event are listed on a website, www.ipledgeforicecream.com.
Meanwhile, Savannah’s ice cream producer dreams of his “perfect world” – a world
where he would stay in Savannah, do smaller films, “and scoop ice cream.”