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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Cock Robin—The Family Business Behind Fredenhagen Park

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Above / Back in 2000, Rita Fredenhagen Harvard and Ted Fredenhagen are pictured at the location of the original Prince Castle and Naperville Creamery along Washington Street, now a lovely gateway to downtown Naperville and North Central College named Fredenhagen Park.

From the PN Nostalgia Archive

By Carl Schultz

The “One in a Million” Story of Prince Castles and Cock Robin Ice Cream Memories & Malts

They took a risk. They started a retail business at the height of the Great Depression. They manufactured all their own equipment. They created their own recipes constantly. From see-through ice cream cabinets to square ice cream dippers, Walter Fredenhagen and Earl Prince used their ingenuity and skill to create a restaurant that served Naperville-and the fast food industry-for over sixty years.

Cock Robin, a Naperville original business, is the subject of a documentary produced by NCTV as part of our “Naperville Voices” Oral History Project.

NCTV staff has compiled over twenty hours of interview footage to make “One in a Million, the Prince Castle/Cock Robin Story.” Key to the story are interviews with Ted Fredenhagen, Rita Harvard, and Earl Prince Jr., the son, daughter, and business partner of Walter Fredenhagen. Walter Fredenhagen was the pioneering businessman behind the Naperville Creamery, then Prince Castle, and finally Robin.

“Cock Robin was a restaurant, but to people who grew up with it, it was a little more than that,” said Jeff Williams of Packer Engineering, a long-time resident and avid fan of Cock Robin. Williams is the proud owner of several Cock Robin artifacts. “The burgers were for me the reason that I came. I know a lot of people love the ice cream there and it was great, it really was really great ice cream, but I came for the burgers.”

Many businesses can succeed simply by supplying its customers with an outstanding product. Fredenhagen looked beyond the bottom line to make a business he could be proud of. “He said human values over monetary value. Very short sentence, but he followed that philosophy,” recalls Fredenhagen’s son Ted.

NCTV compiled most of its interviews from those directly associated with Walter Fredenhagen to get a view of one of the most successful and innovative businessmen in Naperville – if not the Chicagoland area.

At one time, Cock Robin’s were all over the Chicagoland area, numbering 23 in all. “There’s only one Robin left in all the world,” says Paul Nelson, NCTV’s resident historian. “I love the feel of classic Americana, and that Cock Robin embraces that completely.”

“It just has a soft spot in our heart, you know,” said Lou Gartner, the owner of the last Cock Robin in Brookfield. “It just brings back a lot of memories and we just didn’t want to see the Cock Robin tradition die.”

“I feel like I’m part of Cock Robin’s history because of that one store in Brookfield. I’ve had a Silver Star Soda. I’ve eaten a steakburger,” said Nelson. Nelson’s previous work for NCTV was “Downtown Naperville: Heart of a Community,” which won the Communicator Award of Distinction for 2003.

Both Nelson and Operations Manager Liz Spencer thought the story of Cock Robin and its history in Naperville would be an outstanding story—perfect for the third installment of “Naperville Voices.”

“‘Naperville Voices’ goal is to capture the history of Naperville,” Spencer said. “And here was a story about how a single family not only contributed to Naperville, but also influenced the ice cream and fast food industry as well as generations of people who have fond memories of good times with ice cream, Prince Castle and Cock Robin.”

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PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.

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