Tribute To Larry Mitchell

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A Tribute To Larry Mitchell And His Ice Cream Innovations
–From SFGATE article by Rachel Swan

Ice cream veteran Larry Mitchell was a man of adventurous tastes — not just chocolate and strawberry, but also ube (purple yam), macapuno (sweet coconut), lychee and avocado. He featured these and a panoply of other flavors at his long-standing and wildly popular shop in the Mission District.

Mr. Mitchell, 88, died after a stroke on May 12. The Mission District native ran Mitchell’s Ice Cream for more than six decades, turning the small brick storefront on 688 San Jose Ave. into a beloved institution.

The shop, with its striped awning and warm, pastel-colored interior, is a shrine to the past in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing. Opened in 1953, Mitchell’s still hawks
many of the flavors that its eponymous founder concocted in the 1960s and ’70s — a period of freewheeling experimentation, according to his son Brian Mitchell, who helps run the business now with his sister Linda Mitchell.

“In 1965, he started making mango,” Brian Mitchell said. “You’d heard of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and Rocky Road, but nobody had heard of tropical fruits at that
time.” Mr. Mitchell co-founded the business with his brother Jack, who died in 2006, and a creamery salesman supplied their raw ingredients. The brothers were third-generation San Franciscans whose family had immigrated from Ireland by way of New York in the 1860s. The Mitchells descended from a line of go-it- alone entrepreneurs: Their grandfather ran a small dairy in Diamond Heights. The brothers loved ice cream and taught themselves how to prepare it. “They built the store by hand,” Linda Mitchell said. The idea of mixing in tropical fruits came from a customer who was a fruit broker. He suggested that the brothers try serving mango ice cream, which became an instant hit. Shortly thereafter, the Mitchells began importing other fruits from the Philippines and Latin America.

Over the years Mr. Mitchell grew increasingly offbeat, occasionally trying flavors that “didn’t really suit the palate of the Bay Area,” Brian Mitchell said. “He tried something called kaymito — we had heard that’s like a star apple. It didn’t sell quite as well.” In the early 1980s Mr. Mitchell bought brother Jack’s share in the business and began running the shop on his own. He helped manage day-to- day operations until two years ago, when he was 86. Relatives and employees remember him as an unassuming handyman who could always be called on to fix a broken ice cream machine.

Mr. Mitchell met wife Claire Mitchell, also of San Francisco, in 1948, and the two stayed together until the day he died. They raised three children in a split-level house in the Lakeshore Park neighborhood. When he wasn’t making ice cream, Mr. Mitchell enjoyed fly fishing and duck hunting, and he occasionally took his children to pick berries near Lake Merced. In his final years, Mr. Mitchell lived in an assisted living center on the Peninsula. “All the other tenants loved him,” Brian Mitchell said.

His shop is still open seven days a week, often with lines out the door. In addition to Brian and Linda Mitchell, Mr. Mitchell is survived by his wife, Claire, who lives on the Peninsula, and his daughter Teresa Mitchell, who lives in San Francisco.