Sunday afternoon ... perfect time for a few scoops of Brighams Mocha Almond. What's this? Only enough for half a cup? Better open that quart of Curse Reversed, then, to top it off. Mmmm. Might as well have another, too ...
For newcomers to eastern Massachusetts, or for those too young to remember when top-quality national ice cream brands like Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerries didn't exist, Brighams is the quintessential gourmet local ice cream brand. It's absolutely delicious -- Hood, Breyers, and Edy's simply don't compare -- and whenever there's a discount on Brighams at Shaws (and sometimes when there's not) I usually pick up a few quarts of my favorite flavors.
There was a time when Brighams restaurants dotted Waltham and Newton -- Newton Center had one, as did the River Street shopping center where A.J. Wright's is now. West Newton had one where the upper part of CVS is until the early 1980s, then it disappeared for a few years and came back to the other corner, where Lumiere is now.
But a combination of factors led to the demise of the restaurants. Concern over fat was one, a desire for better food than deep fried chicken strips was another, and the supermarket introduction of decent national ice cream brands like Haagen Dazs was a third. I made a pilgrimage of sorts to the flagship Brighams restaurant in Arlington (right next to the factory) about five or six years ago, and the demographic profile of the customer base was telling -- although the restaurant was crowded, most people there were senior citizens.
Changing customer tastes and increased competition hurt profit margins, and this spelled doom for the Brighams restaurants. In Newton and Waltham, a few of the restaurants limped along but they gradually dropped away. The last one I know of was the Waltham branch on River Street, which closed maybe two or three years ago. It was kind of sad ... it was always nearly empty, except for a hard-core crowd of smokers. I never even bought pre-packed ice cream there, as the Shaws next door sold it for slightly cheaper.
But at least you can still buy Brighams at Shaws and Star. It's a testament to the quality of the ice cream and the loyalty of its customer base that Brighams can still survive through limited supermarket sales without any advertising that I am aware of. They've rolled out a few new flavors in the past few years; some are really good (like Reverse the Curse, renamed Curse Reversed after the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory) but some aren't so good -- I bought a quart of Whoopie Pie a few weeks ago but didn't finish it. It was too sickly sweet for my taste. My favorites are Rocky Road, Mocha Almond, and Mint Chocolate Chip.
If any Brighams executives are reading, do the brand a favor and spend a little money to have a professional local ad agency strengthen your local profile. Younger people and newcomers have no idea how good Brighams is, and without anyone to tell them, your new customer base will not be able to keep up. Who knows, a little extra promotion may even allow you to expand to new areas in New England, or maybe even New York.