The Philadelphia history of the Choco Taco (RIP)

Some 40 years before Klondike decided to discontinue it, the childhood favorite frozen treat was likely invented in Philly.

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This week’s confirmation by Klondike that it is discontinuing the folded snack novelty known as a Choco Taco was met with mourning across the nation.

Smart money says not many people were actually buying the foil-packaged half-disc of waffle-wrapped ice cream these days — a Klondike rep cited “tough decisions” about trimming its product portfolio when asked by CNN about reasons for discontinuation — but it does have a nearly 40-year history.

And that history, like so many other things, starts in Philadelphia.

It goes back to Jack & Jill, the dessert purveyor founded in Philly in 1929 by one Mickey Schwartz, according to the website of the company, which is still based nearby in Moorestown, New Jersey. Mickey’s son Jay expanded into distribution, and things took off from there, per the official history, which goes on to mention that in the early 1980s, “brand novelties” were introduced.


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Whatever other brand novelties might have joined it, one was the waffle cone shell folded around chocolate-fudge-striped vanilla ice cream we’ve come to know and love. Its origin has been claimed by others, but a 2016 deep dive by Eater comes to the conclusion that this is the true story:

Alan Drazen, a former ice cream truck driver, invented the Choco Taco in 1983 while working in management at Jack & Jill.

Drazen was just 32 at the time, per the Eater history, and was inspired by the popularity of the Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain, which was busy popularizing the savory hard-shell taco Americans have come to know and love. Once he’d developed the idea a bit — the key to the snack is the shell’s inner coating of chocolate, which holds everything together and makes sure the ice cream doesn’t melt through — Jack & Jill let him run with it. They outsourced its production to a factory in Wisconsin owned by a company called Gold Bond Ice Cream.

That’s where the story leaves Philadelphia, because in 1989 a North Jersey subsidiary of Unilever bought Gold Bond, and with it the right to manufacture the Choco Taco. Four years later, Unilever acquired Klondike, and tucked the treat into that brand’s frozen novelty portfolio.

The Choco Taco has since been copied and imitated many times over.

Its unique brilliance lies in how easy it is to eat. It’s imminently more chompable than a cone, since the waffle shell ensures your teeth won’t get cold shock on biting in. It’s more complex than an ice cream sandwich or even a Chipwich, because you can easily get ice cream, chocolate, shell, and nuts in one single mouthful. It’s only about 230 calories, per a photo of the nutrition facts, which helpfully note the “light ice cream” in a Choco Taco is less caloric than other “full-fat ice cream.”

If you do want a creamier, more luscious ice cream in your taco-shaped frozen treat, there are countless recipes online to make it yourself, and many chefs have adapted the idea to offer on restaurant menus.

When Philly chef Marc Vetri, renowned for his high-end Italian cooking, branched out with the more casual Alla Spina in 2013, there was an Italian-icized Choco Taco on the menu, with a pizzelle wrapper and candied hazelnuts instead of peanuts on the outside.

Barbuzzo chef Marcie Turney offered her version in 2017, turning the Philly restaurant’s famed salted caramel budino dessert into frozen taco form.

But none have the ease or convenience of the original, which will apparently be sorely missed.

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian even stepped up to help. “Dear @Unilever,” he tweeted, “I’d like to buy the rights to your Choco Taco and keep it from melting away from future generations’ childhoods.”

Maybe that will happen. Or maybe the news of its discontinuance is just a “New Coke”-style ploy by Klondike to boost popularity. Hopeful Choco Taco stans will just have to wait and see.

Update: Klondike noted Tuesday afternoon on Twitter the company may try to bring Choco Taco back to ice cream trucks in the “coming years.”

 

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