In January 2003 Eric Berley was finishing his philosophy studies at William & Mary College with no hard plans for the future. Ryan Berley, his brother, was continuing his work as an antiques trader and consultant to Freeman’s auction house, although he was feeling stagnant and ready to do something different.
Just over a year before, the Berley’s father and aunt had purchased a turn-of-the-century building in the heart of Old City in Philadelphia at 116 Market Street. It had (and has) wonderful decorative tin walls & ceilings and the original porcelain mosaic tile floor, that inspired Ryan to float the idea of building an authentic ice cream parlor and soda fountain.
The brothers have always attributed their early fondness for ice cream history to the interior design of their childhood home. Carole Berley, Ryan & Eric’s mother, began selling antiques out of their home in Media in 1976, just after Ryan was born, and
decorated the dining room with a historical ice cream parlor motif.
In Summer 2003 Eric traveled to New York state to study under an ice cream chef and mentor. When he returned to Philadelphia he and Ryan wrote a business plan for what would be called “The Franklin Fountain.”
The brothers were inspired by a marble portrait of Benjamin Franklin they had seen at an exhibition of sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon that spring. Dr. Franklin, civic businessman, thinker and experimenter, began his adult life just steps away from 116 Market Stree. Following a turn-of-the-century precedent for naming businesses after the great man, Franklin’s legacy proved a worthy namesake for the soda fountain.
Months of planning followed, as did road trips to the National Ice Cream Retailer’s Convention in New Orleans, and annual the Ice Screamers Convention (an ice cream antique and memorabilia convention). As they learned, the brothers began to make connections between the values of the early soda fountains and those that Franklin advocated: craftsmanship, social responsibility and experimentation to better serve the people.
By January of 2004, construction began, and with mountains of help from family and friends the final equipment was placed as September wound down. The Franklin Fountain quietly opened the last week of the Summer 2004.
The Franklin Fountain aims to serve an experience steeped in ideals, drizzled with drollery, and sprinkled with the forgotten flavors of the American past.