The American landscape has been inextricably shaped by the automobile. As more and more people bought cars and used them to traverse the country, eye-catching, whimsical buildings popped up along popular routes. Businesses hoped to grab travelers’ increasingly divided attention with shops shaped like oversized objects, animals, or food—and for a while, it worked.
Today, buildings shaped like what they sell—referred to as novelty or programmatic architecture or simply as Ducks—are usually relics from the past. Tastes change fast and unconventional buildings don’t often have a long lifespan. Their hyper-specific designs make them difficult to repurpose and even harder to sell.
When I first spotted a Twistee Treat ice cream stand—designed as a larger-than-life soft-serve ice cream cone—I assumed it was from the 1950s. But the cone-shaped shops are actually relatively modern additions to the novelty architecture canon. The distinctive buildings have been around only since 1983, when the original Twistee Treats were built in North Fort Myers, Florida. The company has existed in several iterations since then, but there are currently 35 locations operating under the Twistee Treat USA name.
Today—Sunday, July 21—all corporately-owned cones will be celebrating National Ice Cream Day by giving away free ice cream. To enter, post a selfie on Instagram with the hashtags #TwisteeSelfie and #TTIceCreamDay, and geotag a Twistee Treat location. There will be a dedicated “selfie mat” on the patio of each cone, and one winner will be chosen every hour from 4 to 8 p.m. Winners can redeem their free ice cream right away, or save it for a later date.
Cherries and corporate cones
Each new Twistee Treat is constructed with 19 separate pieces of fiberglass. The resulting 25-foot-tall cone has three walk-up windows in the front and a drive-through on the side. A small, rectangular extension in the back provides extra space and patrons can enjoy their twisted treats on picnic tables surrounding the large cones.
I once lived within a few miles of three different Twistee Treats in Northeast Ohio. When previous iterations of the company ceased operations, building and naming rights were given to individual franchisees. As a result, older buildings are now spread throughout the country and owners have customized the toppings, flavors, and names of their cones.
Chubby’s Treats, located in Canton, Ohio is topped with a red cherry and covered in hand-painted signage. On the American side of Niagara Falls, the Twist o’ the Mist also has a cherry on top, a green fabric awning, and ice-cream-shaped streetlights. The Cone, which was transported to Southern Ohio from Florida in 1993, is modeled after their most popular flavor, an orange and vanilla twist cone. An older Orlando location decorated with pastel, 3D sprinkles was featured prominently in the 2017 movie The Florida Project.
In areas with colder climates, the ice cream stands operate only in warmer months. I visited Chubby’s Treats in October, a few weeks after it had closed for the season, and as I was snapping photos the owner pulled up to remove a few decorative planters. After she apologized that they were no longer serving ice cream, she pointed proudly to her cone and said, “There’s certainly no doubt about what it is that we sell.”
With the exception of three Houston-area locations, new Twistee Treats are all in Central Florida, concentrated around Orlando and Tampa. Corporate locations are distinguished by their chocolate-dipped tops and LED sprinkles that light up at night, according to Ryan Glaze, Twistee Treat’s social media and marketing manager.
Sprinkles and selfies
Older buildings advertise “6 Flavors,” but newer locations offer 26, including classic vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, in addition to more exotic flavors like pistachio, rum raisin, and green apple. Soft-serve may be the main attraction, but Twistee Treat also offer slushies, sundaes, shakes, drinks, and hot dogs. Frequent customers can join the loyalty program at any location to receive rewards and birthday gifts.
“Our buildings will surely capture your attention, but our delicious ice cream, affordable prices, and outstanding service will capture your heart,” says Glaze.
Corporations get a bad rap for homogenizing their locations and cutting corners, but Twistee Treat USA proves that roadside whimsy is still very much alive—and good for business. It may be a trick of the mind, but I think that ice cream just tastes better when it’s served from inside of an oversized cone (and even better if it’s also free).
If you go
Twistee Treat USA has 35 locations in Florida and Texas. The free ice cream promotion is only applicable at these corporate stores, which can be identified by their LED sprinkles.