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The Story of Chicago's Original Rainbow Cone

Oct 15, 2018 Eat & Drink

Close up of a colorful ice cream in a clear plastic bowl, being held in someone's hand.

For more than 90 years, ice cream lovers have flocked to the Original Rainbow Cone for a taste of its eponymous treat. And with a pedigree that impressive, it’s probably worth a second look.

The Original Rainbow Cone consists of five curiously distinct flavors: chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio and orange sherbet. At first sight, this oddball construction might raise an eyebrow or two. But the proof is in the pudding – or in this case, the ice cream – and this rainbow delight, however strange, definitely works.

But what Frankenstein of flavor could dream up such a mysterious blend?

How the Rainbow Cone Began

Joseph Sapp was just a kid when he discovered his love for ice cream. As an orphan on an Ohio work farm, Joseph never lived a life of luxury. But that never stopped him from scraping his pennies together for a scoop of ice cream now and again.

Sadly, Joseph’s only two options at the time were chocolate or vanilla. And he didn’t want just one or the other… Joseph wanted both those flavors (and more).

Some years later, while Joseph was working as a Buick mechanic, he decided to open his own ice cream stand. He and his wife Katherine chose a spot on 92nd and Western in Chicago, anticipating the future popularity of the route, and in 1926, the Original Rainbow Cone was born.

The Early Days of the Rainbow Cone

It took some trial and error for Joseph to get the flavor combination just right. His first Rainbow Cones were sold out of a small ice cream shack on 92nd. In the early days, Chicago only extended south as far as the Bridgeport area, so Joseph and Katherine couldn’t rely on major Chicago traffic for their burgeoning ice cream stand. Fortunately, a major cemetery was located just beyond on 95th St, and many of the cemetery’s visitors would stop by for a cone on their way home.

Word of the Rainbow Cone got around, and just four years later, they outgrew the humble ice cream shack. The Sapps built a new location right across the street, and it’s here that the Rainbow Cone would stay.

Not even the Great Depression could stop the Rainbow Cone’s ascension. And when the war finally came, the Original Rainbow Cone became a gathering place for its community. Joseph even built a shortwave radio in the backyard, so visitors could stay updated on the news while they snacked.

Despite adversity, the Rainbow Cone thrived in Chicago’s south side. And as the city grew, the curious cone’s popularity did too.

The Original Rainbow Cone Today

In the 60s and 70s, Joseph’s son Robert began taking over. Robert raised his family in the house behind the shop, and his kids grew up working in the family business. In 1986, Robert’s daughter Lynn bought the business outright, and she’s been managing it ever since.

After taking over operations, Lynn brought the Rainbow Cone into the mainstream, becoming a regular staple at major events like Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza. She even introduced the world to the Rainbow Cake.

But in all this time, the Rainbow Cone hasn’t changed a bit. After 90 years, the Sapp family is still serving the same ice cream Joseph developed back in 1926. And they’ll continue selling that delicious ice cream for years to come.

There may not be a pot of gold waiting for you, but you’ll be smiling all the same at the Original Rainbow Cone.

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