The Man Who Invented The Pretzel Cone A Childhood Dream Comes True.

Posted: June 28, 1989

Eating pretzels with ice cream was just a part of growing up for Ian Cooper. That's how they did it in Wilkes-Barre. If you were having ice cream, you had to have pretzels. And if you were eating pretzels, you needed ice cream.

The two just paired well, like Batman with Robin.

Cooper, like a lot of other children, was always thinking how great it would be to have cones made out of pretzels. It seemed to make sense.

"When I grow up," he promised himself, "I'm going to invent a pretzel cone."

Children have a way of making impractical promises. Then they grow up and their childhood commitments fade as quickly as blue jeans washed in bleach.

But Cooper's pretzel story has a twist. He fulfilled his childhood pledge. He invented the pretzel cone, just as he said he would.

It was an instant success. From the day he managed to overcome pretzel dough's resistance to being shaped into a cone, the demand for the product has far exceeded Cooper's ability to produce it.

And now that Cooper, 48, has designed a machine capable of meeting that production, the little boy in him is already dreaming of other types of cones, for although pretzels and ice cream might be a Pennsylvania tradition, there are other regions to conquer.

"Taco cones in Texas," Cooper said with almost the dreamlike eyes of a philosopher. "Shortbread cones, peanut-butter cones down South. And in California, we'll make a natural cone out of granola."

He paused for a moment and then added, matter-of-factly:

"In California, they're not going to eat pretzels and salt."

*

The pretzel cone - PretzLcone as Cooper has dubbed it - has been available in local ice cream stores for about three years. You can find it in about 85 percent of the mom-and-pop ice cream stores from upstate Pennsylvania to South Jersey.

If you haven't seen one, it's probably because Cooper and his company, Cooper Concepts, has never advertised. It was a substantial challenge to produce them at all.

"The first thing I had to do was go to a food formulator to see how feasible it would be," said Cooper, who operates a dental-supply business when he's not eating pretzels and ice cream.

Food formulators are people who make possible the development of new foods - such as soft-batch cookies. Initially, Cooper's formulator didn't think much of the pretzel-cone idea.

"He told me I was wasting my time and money," Cooper said while visiting Frank Gibilante's ice-cream parlor, the Ice Cream Machine, on York Road in Hatboro. "His point of view was that if a pretzel cone was such a good idea, Nabisco or Sweetheart Cones would have already done it."

Cooper might not have known a great deal about pretzel dough, but he has an understanding of marketing. He knew that the food formulator came from North Jersey, an area in which eating pretzels with ice cream was a foreign notion.

A taste of the two foods together, along with Cooper's enthusiasm - and the food formulator was pleasantly hooked.

"He helped me develop a formula for making pretzel dough more resilient and stretchable," said Cooper. "Pretzel dough is hard to roll. And the geometry of a cone presents a nightmare, just trying to put pretzel dough into that shape."

"How do you get it to retain its form? How do you get it out without it falling apart, or take a bite without it cracking?"

After the formula to overcome those obstacles was developed, Cooper was ready for production.

"I bought a little plant in Northeast Philadelphia. We got some prototype equipment and experimented to find ways to achieve a high-intensity production, not just knocking a few out a day.

"We sold the first boxes and then really got into serious trouble because everyone started to call to get them," he said. "Selling the cones was never a problem."

Demand has been so high, in fact, that the main office of Baskin-Robbins has granted local franchise operators special permission to buy the pretzel cones, which - because they are not distributed through the Baskin-Robbins' system - are not an authorized product.

In the beginning, he was able to turn out six or eight cases of 200 cones each, with him, his wife and their three children taking 12 to 14 hours a day doing it.

Now, with his high-production machine, Cooper said he would be able to produce at least 30,000 cones a day, with the potential for making 100,000 on any given day. He hopes to market his cones soon in packages of six, so his customers can buy bulk ice cream and a package of cones to take home. A pretzel-cone spinoff.

And Cooper dreams on: "From regional trends, national trends grow."

Because, although tacos are popular in Texas, they can catch on elsewhere. Especially these days, with the emphasis on regional foods.

"With the new machine," he said, "we can now make any type of cone and pattern them after regional tastes."

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