Revisiting Kay’s Kastles has reconnected me with another part of my past, and, reading up on the very small ice cream parlor, I’ve learned a lot about this very old company, and how its fortunes have withered so badly. There is only one Kay’s Kastles store left, north of Chattanooga up US 27 in Soddy-Daisy, and it is a shadow of its former self, but I’m so glad that I stopped by to say hello to an old friend.
Once upon a time, this was a great regional treat, and millions who grew up in the Tennessee Valley and either side of Lookout Mountain remember it fondly. The business began in 1934 in Chattanooga as Kay’s Ice Cream. It was started by a fellow named Frank Kollmansperger, who had previously worked for other creameries in the region. Back in those days, of course, long before national branding and distribution, milk, butter and ice cream were very much local things, and the original store on Brainerd probably sold more packaged “slices” of ice cream for home iceboxes than they did treats on cones.
In time, Kay’s Ice Cream grew to a pretty large area. They were in Knoxville in 1936, and in Roanoake, briefly, by the late 1940s, but soon contracted back. In 1956, Kollmansperger took on a partner in James Blevins, who wished to reopen the dormant Knoxville facility, and became part-owner of operations there. Around this time, Kay’s opened new stores in the towns of Soddy and Daisy, which would later merge into one municipality, and it must have been then that they opened stores in Alabama for the first time. There was certainly one store in Gadsden, and possibly one in Huntsville as well.
In the early 1960s, however, Kollmansperger and Blevins ended their partnership, and their sales regions were marked off. The Knoxville-area stores retained the Kay’s name, while all stores south of the town of Cleveland, Tennessee became Kay’s Kastles. Kay’s Ice Cream does not seem to have expanded too far outside of Knoxville. There were, possibly, stores in Johnson City and Bristol at one time. For many years, only two remained. One was in Maryville, a town about ten miles south of Knoxville, but it closed in 2007. The last remaining Kay’s is on the Chapman Highway, on US-441 on Knoxville’s east side, on the way to Seiverville. I have kicked myself so hard to learn this. In November 2008, Marie and I drove up this highway and we must have blown right past the place without seeing that iconic sign.
Ah, yes, the sign. Meanwhile, south of Knoxville, Kay’s Kastles continued their small growth, with stores across northern Alabama, middle Tennessee and northwestern Georgia. There were two stores in Rome, and what I remember most about the ride home from visiting my father’s family in Fort Payne throughout the 1970s and 1980s was stopping in Rome for ice cream at one of those stores. The sign was magnificent, a huge, fiberglass cone with five or six scoops of ice cream. My brother and I would lean forward in our seats – belts?! Kids didn’t wear seat belts in the seventies! – gripping the backs of the front seats, wide-eyed and unblinking, hoping to be the first to spot that sign, to shout “There it is! Kay’s Kastles! Stop, Daddy, stop!” after silently praying all the way from Coosa to Rome that we’d been good enough to warrant a cone.
I was similarly wide-eyed as we drove up Dayton Pike toward Soddy-Daisy looking for that giant cone. It wasn’t there. I spotted the green of the sign from a third of a mile away, but the huge, fiberglass ice cream cone was not there. The poor fellow who was working the register, and who is probably asked what on earth has become of their sign about twice a week, explained that this location was one of the few that never actually had the big fiberglass sign. The power lines outside prevented one from being erected sixty-odd years ago.
An even bigger shock awaited us. When I began looking into what I could learn about Kay’s Kastles, I had thought that all of those years of my childhood, I had been eating an ice cream produced in-house. It turns out that was not the case. Prior to 1970, it was, but Kollmansperger actually sold the creamery to Mayfield that year, and they distributed their product in Kay’s Kastles packaging for instore sales. Apparently, there were two or three special blends that Mayfield continued making exclusively for Kay’s Kastles. One of these was grape, which my mother remembered. When I told her, a couple of months ago, that I had found a Kay’s Kastles in Soddy-Daisy, she resolved to go sometime and get a grape milkshake like she always enjoyed. But when Kollmansperger passed away, the recipes apparently went with him, and Mayfield no longer makes them. Every so often, the same woman who reprimands me for swearing reminds me where I got it from. When I told her that she need not bother making the trip to Soddy-Daisy for a grape milkshake, people two counties over reported the cussing.
With that in mind, I’m very sad to say that there’s limited reason to go this far out of the way for what’s effectively the same Mayfield ice cream available in your grocer’s dessert freezers. The staff will certainly make it worth as much of your while as they can. They’re very friendly, and their prices are remarkably low. I mean, there’s not a blessed thing in the world wrong with Mayfield ice cream, and there’s no way you can find a banana split this good for under four bucks around Atlanta, but Soddy-Daisy is just a really long way out of the way for it.
On the other hand, if you did grow up in the Kay’s Kastles region, and fondly remember those stores, then the nostalgic rush is undeniable. They even feed it with a little display on the front wall, with framed copies of the newspapers that announced the Kay’s stores coming to Soddy and Daisy in 1955, and one of the old yellow half-gallon tubs of Kay’s Kastle ice cream that, in the 1960s, you could buy in this building.
That monstrous double-scoop in the first photo above, by the way, is, of course, what my teenage daughter ordered. While Marie and I shared a sensible banana split, the girlchild came up with mixing bubble gum flavor with pralines and cream. Every so often, it’s good to be old enough to not want something so ridiculous.
Anyway, while the good people in Soddy-Daisy have never had the big fiberglass cone in front of their store, a business down the road in Chattanooga’s St. Elmo neighborhood never took theirs down. Some years after this Kay’s Kastles store closed, a guy who wanted to open a pizza place agreed on the building and said that the sign was so fantastic that it would be wrong to demolish it. So he decided to sell ice cream as well.
This Kay’s Kastles store had been one of the most brilliantly-located of all of the ones in three states. It’s literally right across the street from the Incline Railway, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Even as downtown Chattanooga fumbled and decayed in the 1970s and 1980s, the Incline, Rock City and Ruby Falls were still packing in crowds. How in the world this Kay’s Kastles managed to fail with the darn Incline right there, I cannot imagine, but Mr. T’s Pizza and Ice Cream seems to be doing good business. The desserts here, incidentally, are not from Mayfield, but instead from Blue Bunny.
The St. Elmo neighborhood has been on an upswing for a while, anyway, so it’s natural that Mr. T’s should be doing better business than that Kay’s Kastles had been doing in its last days. The community is perhaps not quite as alive and vibrant as the city’s North Shore, but is home to several neat, independent restaurants, including The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe and one of the city’s three Mojo Burrito locations. This is a local chain that I would like to visit the next time that I’m in town.
I’d also like to visit that last remaining Kay’s in Knoxville, should the road ever get me back up there. For many years, the Knoxville Kay’s were also buying their ice cream from another source, but in 2007, they resumed local production, and sell Kay’s brand ice cream both in that Chapman Highway restaurant and in Food City grocery stores. I am not sure when the road will again take us back to Knoxville – the closure of Book Eddy, mine and Marie’s all-time favorite used bookstore, was an awful discouraging blow – but when we do, we will definitely go by Kay’s.
Note: It’s sort of understood that with any little blog post like this, the writer grabs a little here and there from many sources and nobody really credits each other, because this is miles removed from academia. However, the level of detail in this chapter would not have been possible without the hard work of John Shearer, whose 2007 article about Kay’s for the Chattanoogan newspaper is available for you to read. My thanks to Mr. Shearer for conducting all those interviews and sparking so many memories.
With that in mind, we would certainly love to know much more about the range that Kay’s Kastles expanded through in the 1960s and 1970s. Did you grow up in a town with either a Kay’s Kastles or a Kay’s? Can anybody confirm whether Huntsville had a store? A Google image search will bring up many more photos of that terrific sign, but do you have any of your own to share? Leave a comment and let us know!
34 thoughts on “Kay’s Kastles, Soddy-Daisy TN”
Great story. A friend of mine told me he used to go to Kay’s Kastles in Summerville, Ga.
That rings a bell. Did I know about that one already? There was also one in Dalton, and that building is now home to a place called Ice Castle, which kept the sign: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ice-Castle-Inc/108135062560910
in about 1965 my cousins, ronnie diane and linda gannaway lived about 1 block from kays castle in daisy, we rode our bikes up on weekends when i visited from rock spring ga, we would spend the whole day in daisy, because it used to take about 2 hours to get there from where i lived, now it takes about 30 minutes, but when i read this it brought back memories of the 60s, thank you ,from eddie wattenbarger
There is a good place to eat on Ringgold Road in East Ridge, Tenn., called Teriyaki House. This guy who cooks delicious Teriyaki food used to lease a small space in the Kay’s Kastles in East Ridge, which is now a used car place. After Kay’s went out of business, he moved into a former Pizza Hut building just down the road. But I’m pretty sure they still serve the same Kay’s ice cream menu, including the famous banana split.
I’ve seen that building! I said at the time that it looked like a good candidate for the Not Fooling Anybody people… if their site was up these days, anyway.
I used to get grape ice cream cones from a Kay’s Kastles in Rome. I want to say that there were two locations there, but only one of them had the big ice cream sign out front.
Somebody’s going to have to physically drive me through Rome to those locations because every time I’ve gone through town in the last five years, nothing looks like the strip shopping center where we would stop as kids.
I am one of many grandchildren of Tiny & Freda Kollmansperger( founders of Kay’s Ice Cream & Kay’s Kastles). My father Charles dedicated many years (although he died at 48yrs. old) streamlining Kay’s into providing the best ice cream at a reasonable price. And even with Mayfield’s making the ice cream for Kay’s, it was strictly per Kay’s specifications. My father decided to pull Kay’s products from the grocery stores and sell only in the retail stores as part of his restructuring of the business. *I did work in the business for many years and think my comments are true facts; however, many years (unfortunately) have passed since Kay’s was sold due to my father’s untimely death.*
One thing I do know for sure is I remain proud of my family’s hard work, but more importantly their fairness and kindness in dealing with others. It is an honor and privilege to be recognized as a Kollmansperger because of the integrity of both my father and grandfather. I hope and pray that I will leave a legacy my children will be proud of- not monetarily, but for being honest and trying to do the right thing.
Thanks so much for writing, Kitty! We certainly appreciate learning more and more about your family’s great business. (And if you happen to know for sure whether there was a Kay’s Kastle in Huntsville or not, that sure would settle an old stumper…!)
Kitty, I grew up in Maryville a few blocks from Kays and fondly remember summer days walking there with my friends. You could get a bologna sandwich, fries, and a superman cone for less than $5. I still drive to chapman hwy every now and then for nostalgia. Do you know if the Kay’s currently sold at Food City is made by mayfields as well?
Kays Ice Cream was a wonderfully delicious part of my Chattanooga childhood. I remember one in Rossville, Brainerd Road, St. Elmo and one on Hixson Pike, just north of Northlake Mall. My favorite was the one in St. Elmost; we could enjoy the cool, cream ice cream while watching the Incline. Banana splits, chocolate malts; and does anyone remember the Kay’s wonderful hot dog? To the Kollmansperger family – Thank You!
I just knew that St. Elmo’s store had to be one of the most popular ones! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Judy.
I used go to the kay’s kastle in cartersville,ga. The lemon custard,grape and bubble gum were to die for!
Thank you for writing, VIncent! Do you happen to remember where in Cartersville that store was, or what years? This is the first we’ve heard of one in this city.
the physical address for the one in Cartersville was 298 Nelson street (facing Dixie Ave) in Cartersville in the 70s. It’s now a subway. I loved their banana splits and lime/orange sherberts!!. They gave you the biggest scoops.
As a small child it was the highlight of my week for my mom to take me in there. They had little metal chairs and the backrest made a little heart. The walls were a pale yellow tile, I think. Many memories were made on that little shop.
The location that you visited is not the original Kay’s. They moved about 15 years ago. Where it used to be (another 2 min drive up the road) was the original location and it did have the large cone.
Thanks for the information! I suppose the fellow working the register was correct that this location never had the cone, but he didn’t tell us that it had once been in a different place. 🙂
AH! Kay’s Ice Cream….YUMMO! There was a Kay’s Ice Cream place in Red Bank, Tn on Dayton Blvd, before it became dead bank and them putting up speeding cameras (which are finally down). My favorite was the pink bubble gum….POP!
Red Bank’s not all that bad, though. We think that Dub’s Place is worth the trip! But thank you for the comment. We love hearing where other Kay’s and Kay’s Kastles used to be.
Hello to all the hundreds of readers who have found this story in the last couple of days! If you’re interested in reading more about Kay’s and Kay’s Kastles, check out this story about the remaining Kay’s in Knoxville, and be sure to check out our other stories about Chattanooga-area restaurants!
I grew up (70’s-90’s) just up the road from the location in Daisy (before it moved to South Daisy).We love Kay’s Kastle, many trips there after ball games and church. I try to stop in to take my children when I’m back visiting my mom. I’m so glad it’s still open. So many great memories there.
Long ago the Kay’s Kastle at it’s former location across the street from the Soddy Daisy police station, did have the display cone over the sign.
I remember the Kay’s in daisy. My mom and grandmother took us there. I also remember the giant cone and I think they had a great hot dog. I can also remember the old post office that was next door. And I even went to daisy elementary school. We lived in walking distance of it all. The good old days.
I grew up in the Brainerd area of Chattanooga, and we had a Kay’s Kastle on Brainerd Road. It was an occasional stop on the way home from church on Sunday evenings for my family. We were sad when it closed. As an adult, I married and moved to Soddy Daisy. We frequent Kay’s even now. It is a common thing for us to meet our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter for ice cream at Kay’s after dinner. The young man at the counter loves to give stuffed animals from one of the machines to our 3.5 year old granddaughter. We will even be having her 4th birthday party there!
I worked at Kay’s Kastle 40 years ago when it was next to the old Daisy post When I worked there it had the ice cream cone sign…it was one of the original triple dipper cones with 3 scoops of ice cream.
Tomorrow’s News Today just posted the surprising find that in 1968, there was a Kay’s Kastles in Sandy Springs GA. That community wasn’t its own city then, and the shopping center was located just south of the Roswell city limits. Wonder whether there were ever any other Kay’s Kastles in the Atlanta area?
Does this mean there is no more butter brickle ice cream?
No idea! If there’s a flavor you’re interested in trying, you could phone the store and ask.
You now have an excuse to go visit Kay’s Ice Cream in Knoxville. The Book Eddy is back in business, now located in Happy Holler on Central Street, located 5 blocks up from Raven Records and Rarities. John Coleman, a friend of mine still is proprietor. He’d love to see you visit again. Just passing on a heads up, I love reading your blog.
That is amazing news! Thank you for letting us know! We’ll see about getting back to Knoxville as soon as possible!
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