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S. Prestley Blake, Co-founder Of Friendly's Restaurant Chain, Dies At 106

Phil Hall
·2 min read

S. Prestley Blake, who co-founded of an ice cream shop during the Great Depression that grew into the Friendly’s restaurant chain, has died at the age of 106.

Humble Beginnings: The New Jersey-born Stewart Prestley Blake was 20 years old when he joined his 18-year-old brother Curtis in opening the first Friendly ice cream shop in Springfield, Massachusetts, in July 1935. The brothers financed their opening with a $547 gift from their parents and made $27.60 on their first day in business. A second shop was opened in neighboring West Springfield five years later, before the Blakes closed their business for the duration of World War II.

The Blakes were cognizant of their customers’ needs, serving grilled cheese sandwiches on Fridays for Catholic patrons who went meatless that day and introducing take-home ice cream containers in 1950. The Friendly chain expanded to 10 locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut by 1951 and continued growing, reaching a network of 500 restaurants across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest by 1974. They also that year opened a food processing and distribution plant in Troy, Ohio.

Going Public: The Blakes sold the company to Hershey Foods Corp. (NYSE: HSY) in 1979, which later sold it to Tennessee Foods in 1989 and renamed it from Friendly to Friendly’s. The Friendly Ice Cream Corp. was listed on NASDAQ in 1997 and switched to the American Stock Exchange in 2000. During this period, Blake acquired a 12% share in the company and remained active in charting its direction.

An affiliate of Sun Capital Partners bought the company for $337.2 million in 2007, and then Dean Foods (OTC: DFODQ) acquired the company in 2016 for $155 million. The Friendly’s chain currently operates in 137 locations.

Blake’s post-corporate career was focused on philanthropy, with endowments for educational institutions. His memoir “A Friendly Life” was published in 2011. He spent his retirement years in Somers, Connecticut. His brother Curtis passed away last May at the age of 102.

Photo courtesy JJBers / Creative Commons

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