Meet the Merchant -- Robert J. Gill, Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
Bob Gill, as Mr. Robert J. Gill is known, was born in Hollywood and has been serving ice cream at the Farmers Market for 73 years. A World War II veteran, at 86, he says he doesn’t plan to retire until he’s 100 years old! His Dad founded Gill’s Ice Cream in 1937 and Gill’s has been serving ice cream creations to generations of Angelenos ever since. He still loves to meet his customers and talk with them about their lives and families. Mr. Gill has four children, seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Following are some of his recollections about his years at the Market:
“I remember the land at 3rd & Fairfax before the Market was even built, that’s how old I am. My Dad opened Gill’s after he’d been spending some time around the ‘new’ Farmers Market. He thought an old-fashioned ice cream shop would go well because there wasn’t anything here in the Market like that. So he built the shop, which still has the same look and feel as it did back then. I was about 14 and my brothers, sister and I would come here on weekends to scoop ice cream. But I guess I was the only one who was really interested in the store, no one else in the family cared much about it. After my Dad died of a heart attack in 1948, I left UCLA and began running the shop and I’ve been here ever since.
Our most famous item is the ice cream fruit basket mold. I’m one of the few folks still making ice cream molds today. The fruit basket has about 30 servings in it and no one makes it the way I do. It’s made of mostly fruit flavored ice cream -- peach, pineapple, strawberry, oranges, lemon and banana. I still have all the old molds, too, so the ice cream is scooped out in various fruit shapes and looks like a fruit basket. I don’t make it much anymore, but I will make it for special orders.
Our most popular ice cream is good old vanilla. All of our specialties, sundaes, milk shakes, all start with vanilla ice cream. For something different, people love peppermint and you can’t find peppermint at most other places, but you can get it here. And our chocolate dip is very popular. It’s the soft serve ice cream, but we’ll scoop any ice cream and dip it if a customer wants it.
Most of the flavors we sell now we’ve sold from the beginning. When my Dad opened Gill’s, he put an ice cream factory right in the middle of our shop in a space about 20 feet long. We had windows all around the store so you could see us making the ice cream with a machine that stood about 5 feet high. There was a section in the machine that would grind the ice and then it would come out the bottom. We’d shovel it with salt to make a brine that would freeze the cream. We used no milk, just real cream.
Only one person could run the machine at a time and it was very labor-intensive. It took hours and was hard work because the tub held 10 gallons of ice cream in it and you had to lift the tub out after each batch. Eventually we stopped hand-grinding and got a motorized grinder that had a 10 horsepower motor and could make up to 12 batches a day.
We stopped using the old method some time in the ‘50s. Now there’s refrigerant, like Freon and the gasses that do all the work and make the process much easier.
I can’t think of anything else in the world I would have enjoyed doing more than selling ice cream. This is much more active than selling stocks from a desk. I love being in business for myself, too. There’s always something going on, something new happening. Being here at the Market is very special and it’s never dull!”
Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Stall #416 on the Farmers Market West Patio, Phone: 323-936-7986