Shelley Roth Passes Pierre’s Ice Cream to New Owners, Reflects on Family Legacy, Women Leaders, and Leaves the Music Business for Ice Cream
CLEVELAND, Ohio – It was the late 1970s and it was an exciting time to work for Atlantic Records in New York. Shelley Roth, who would later become the CEO of Pierre’s Ice Cream, worked in the marketing department as great rock, soul and disco music came and went from the label’s doors.
As Atlantic released albums by Ray Charles, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, AC/DC and others, Shelley’s father, Sol, asked her to return to Cleveland so she could run the music business. ice cream and later own it.
“I left New York because supporting my family was important,” Roth said.
From working alongside her father in 1979, to taking over the business in 1991, to the day she decided to sell Pierre’s, Roth said preserving the legacy, company values and employees was a priority. .
But she also became a trailblazer in her own right, emerging as a leader at a time when that was rare for women, she said.
“There weren’t many fathers inviting their daughters to help out, let alone succeed in their business,” Roth said. “But he had the courage and the confidence to let me learn from him.”
Pierre’s Ice Cream announced last week that it would be sold to Ohio Processors, a London-based dairy manufacturer west of Columbus.
While Pierre’s is a recognizable name on grocery store shelves with a prominent plant along Euclid Avenue, Ohio Processors is less so, as the company primarily sells to other businesses. It makes products like whipped cream, custard mix, soft serve ice cream mix, and coffee creamers for others.
But as different as the two companies are, Roth said the Smith family, owners of Ohio Processors, understand many of Pierre’s core values, such as making high-quality products and supporting workers.
Roth said she wanted to ensure Pierre lived on even after he retired, and selling the business created a succession plan that would keep Pierre’s values and team together.
“We have a wonderful team that has worked very hard over the years and understood how important it is to maintain the legacy that the founders started,” Roth said.
A 90-year history of ice cream based in Cleveland
Pierre’s Ice Shop opened in 1932 in a store near East 82nd Street and Euclid Avenue, founded by Alexander “Pierre” Basset. He eventually outgrew his store but remained on Euclid Avenue. Royal Ice Cream has opened a small shop not too far away.
Sol comes from a poor family that immigrated from Eastern Europe, his daughter said. After serving in the army during World War II, he took a job as a delivery boy for a local dairy.
He was affable and liked by many, including the owner of Royal Ice Cream. When the royal owner was ready to move on, Sol tried to buy the business. He couldn’t get a loan, so the landlord let him pay a deposit and pay the rest later.
In the 1950s, Royal and Pierre wanted to focus more on making and delivering ice cream, and they decided to share a factory on Hough Avenue, Shelley Roth said. In the 1960s, the Basset family did not want to continue running Pierre’s, so Sol bought the business.
She said her father decided to really focus on the Pierre’s brand, focusing on both quality and variety. Pierre’s offers over 200 flavors of ice cream.
The daughter joins the dad
Shelley Roth began working side by side with her father in 1979 and became owner and CEO in 1991. Sol died in 2005.
In 2011, Pierre’s opened its current 35,000 square foot ice cream factory on Euclid Avenue near East 65th Street.
Pierre’s is one of the few regional ice cream brands still in the country. For several economic reasons, regional brands have been consolidated into larger companies through acquisitions, Roth said, and it has been difficult for smaller brands to survive.
That of Pierre, however, lasted. It was sold primarily in northern Ohio, but reached western Pennsylvania, parts of Michigan, and followed Heinen’s to Chicago. The company also manufactures some private label products that are domestic.
It was also a conscious decision to stay in Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood, she said, rather than move to an out-of-town facility.
What was also difficult were the reactions she had when she started running the day-to-day operations of the business with her father. Roth said there were a lot of stares, people saying “isn’t that cute” or being negative in some other way.
Roth said his dad just opened the door. She said she was delighted that in modern times more and more people are talking about the fact that these doors are not open to everyone and the ways to open them.
“Once the door is open, everyone really has to prove themselves,” Roth said.
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future of stone
Roth said Ohio Processors, owned by Doug Smith, knows the dairy industry very well and is impressed with Pierre’s facilities and team.
The buyers will form a new company called Pierre’s Ice Cream Company Inc. to purchase the Royal Ice Cream brand, facilities and assets. All employees are staying, Pierre’s Ice Cream said, and Roth will stay on for a year as a consultant to help with the transition.
The new owners plan to keep Pierre’s in Cleveland and expand it, Smith said Tuesday in a statement released through a spokesperson for Pierre.
“Ohio Processors and Pierre’s staff intend to continue Shelley’s plans to expand production capacity at Pierre’s Cleveland plant to further expand distribution of Pierre’s Ice Cream to other markets” , Smith said in a statement. “The intention is for Pierre’s to become a self-sufficient, independent operation at its current location, with its current staff continuing in their current functions.”
Smith said Ohio Processors is in its fourth generation of family operation. He said his company contacted Roth because of his bright future and his reputation.
Roth attributes Pierre’s success to the company’s people and their ability to live by its principles. Even though the company has changed a lot over the years, Roth said things like using the best ingredients and treating customers well haven’t.
“Really, it’s still a work in progress, but there are still fundamental principles that we adhere to,” she said.
She said she was happy that a new owner could come in and maintain Pierre and those values.
“It was exciting to be able to support a product that made people happy, delicious, and high quality,” she said.
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