Who Invented the Slurpee (ICEE)?
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Posted on 22 Feb 2018 20:58

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During the 1950's, a guy named Omar Knedlik, who owned a Dairy Queen in Coffyville, Kansas, got fed up with how inefficient the ice cream cone was at producing a brain freeze and invented a machine to make a frozen drink called an ICEE. After that, you could produce the headaches by the dozen, leading the all but universal brain damage in my generation.

Just kidding, the brain freeze is harmless. At least I think so. The sugar, however, according to many, is addictive.

Slurpee versus ICEE

If you grew up in a 7-Eleven land, you may never have had an ICEE. That's okay, you know what I'm talking about. A 7-Eleven Slurpee is the same thing. In fact, that is why I highlighted the brand name Slurpee in the title. I figure it is the more commonly known name.

In the 1960's, 7-Eleven licensed the drink from the ICEE company, but they had to sell it under a different name, so they called it a Slurpee. So, Omar Kneklik invented the Slurpee, too, just not the name itself. The Slurpee could only be sold in U.S. 7-Eleven stores. This prevented direct competition between the 'two' drinks. It also created the myth that the Slurpee and ICEE are two different things, a debate I still have with people to this day.

The umbrella term for ICEE's, Slurpees, or any other similar drink is FCB. It was Omar who invented the FCB (Frozen Carbonated Beverage), and this was after a happy accident in which he froze his sodas to a slushy consistency which his customers loved.


ICEE, the original.


ICEE, the original.

Despite the well-documented history of the drink, there are two types of people: those who despise 7-Eleven, condemning it as an example of capitalism gone wrong, right up there with Walmart, and those who live by it, subsisting on microwave burritos and Big Gulps. Those who love the store, purists, insist that their beloved C-store could never have NOT came up with the drink all on its own.

However, the ICEE company is still going strong and you can still get an ICEE in plenty of places. We didn't have 7-Elevens where I grew up, but we did have convenience stores and "mini marts" where ICEE's were sold. In those days, the person behind the counter had to dispense one for you. Only some of my readers will remember, but this used to be true at 7-Eleven. Yes, buying a Slurpee was like pumping gas in New Jersey.

Incidentally, some old-timers I knew would call any convenience store a "totem store" or a "totsem" store. Totem stores were what 7-Elevens were before they were 7-Elevens, starting as The "South China Ice Company", which sold ice to businesses, and then opened its doors to individual consumers, before expanding to other "convenience items." The store put a Totem pole out front, and the Totem Shop was born. Why people from down my way would call convenience stores a totem store, I'm not really sure, but it could just have well have been their remembrance of an obvious imitator, the "U-Totem" Store, which became a fairly large chain before being bought by the Circle K corporation.

What About the Slushee?

Another wrench in ICEE/Slurpee debate is the term "slushee.: The ICEE was a "slushy" drink. Sometimes, you might come across a drink called a Slushee, not founded until 1996, which is thinner than an ICEE/Slushy. Some people insist on getting the ICEE mixed up with this Slushee, causing more confusion.

No, they are NOT the same thing with a different name! Slurpee and ICEE are the same thing with a different name, but Slushee is a different drink. As well, there is the "Slush Puppie," which is also owned by the ICEE company, but sucks. You'll find these in gas stations and lower end places, and the machines do not work the same. They are the ones with the big clear swirl canisters. Unlike an ICEE or Slurpee, which holds itself together well, you can suck the "flavor" of a Slush Puppie right out of the ice.

frozen blended margarita with lime wedge

Did you know that the Frozen Margarita and the
Slurpee are connected? Read on to find out how.

frozen blended margarita with lime wedge

Did you know that the Frozen Margarita and the
Slurpee are connected? Read on to find out how.

The Cirkle K Froster

The Circle K corporation, which I mentioned above, owns the second largest chain of convenience stores next to 7-Eleven. Their drink, to which their customers are just as dedicated, is the Froster. Which, I'm afraid to say, looks to be another re-branded Icee, although I cannot confirm this suspicion, yet. In Canada, Mac's Convenience Stores sell the Froster.

The Slurpee/Frozen Margarita Connection

I don't know if you've heard, but you wouldn't be able to enjoy your frozen margarita today without the Slurpee. That's the story, anyways. It's not exactly true. To be more correct, you would not be able to enjoy them in every Mexican restaurant with consistent quality without the Slurpee. You can make a frozen Margarita just with a blender, you don't need a Slurpee machine, and I KNOW you already know that! But imagine turning out scores of perfect frozen Margaritas to hundreds of customers a night in a packed Mexican eatery. You'd have a problem with consistency and quality.

Mariano Martinez, a Dallas Mexican restaurant owner, reportedly invented the frozen Margarita in 1971, or thereabouts. It was a big hit but he had trouble keeping up with demand and couldn't always guarantee the perfect drink. Then one day he saw a 7-Eleven Slurpee machine and bingo, he had his solution. A used Slurpee machine, a chemist named John Hogan, and some tinkering, and Mariano's Hacienda was able to satisfy its customers demand for the frosty goodness that is the Frozen Margarita. Later on, specific machines were invented just for Margaritas and they are widespread in Mexican restaurants and even beyond. But Mariano's original rigged Slurpee machine is in the Smithsonian. As it should be!1

Now, I like frozen Margaritas as much as the next person. But if you've never had a Margarita and you want to know what a Margarita is like, then don't order a frozen one. Order a regular one so that you can truly experience all the flavors. Also keep in mind that frozen Margarita's will probably never use top shelf ingredients like premium Tequila and they will use a commercial "sweet and sour mix" instead of Cointreau or a good triple sec together with fresh lime juice. I think it is worth it, for your first Margarita, to go for the top shelf so that you can experience what it is meant to be like.

See also:

When Was the 7-Eleven Big Gulp Introduced?

1. "Frozen Margaritas - Food - The Austin Chronicle." Austin News, Events, Restaurants, Music. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. <http://www.austinchronicle.com/food/2009-03-13/754263/>.
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