Photo courtesy of Allison Carey, The Plain Dealer
The Frosty Bar's frosted malt, as recreated at Weber's Premium Custard in Fairview Park.
Read the Cleveland Plain Dealer's article, "Mmmm, the Frosty Bar at the bottom of Higbee's escalator: Cleveland Remembers"

The Legend of the Famed Frosted Malt

"The flavor was such a hit, nothing was ever changed."

When Mr. Weber opened his custard shop in Rocky River in 1931, he set about creating other varieties of custard beyond vanilla. One of his original six flavors was Frosted Malt.

The president of a major department store located in downtown Cleveland lived in Rocky River and was a big fan of Mr. Weber’s Frosted Malt. Over a ten month period he persisted in trying to buy the Frosted Malt recipe. Mr. Weber refused to sell. Legend has it that the exasperated gentleman went to an employee of Mr. Weber’s and said, “This place will soon close for the season. If you’d like a job downtown, find out what goes into that malt.”

The young man took careful note of the flavoring ingredients and amounts Mr. Weber used.

Having acquired this information, the major department store president bought a self-contained custard style machine. A sign, “Malt On A Cone 10 cents” was created for the treat’s debut on the first Saturday in November (just after Weber’s closed for the season). That Saturday morning the President personally supervised the making of the first batch. The taste was great, but they couldn’t get it to firm up enough to sit up on a cone. The young man missed the final ingredient that is put in just one minute before you put it through the machine.

Not being “ice cream people,” they didn’t know how to correct the problem. Perturbed, the President yelled, “Get those old fountain glasses from upstairs. We’ll only charge a nickel until we can get someone in here to tell us how to do this right.”

The basement area (where Frosted Malt was sold) was reserved for sale items. Unlike today, it was rare that an item would go on sale in the department it was normally housed in. November and December were bad months in the basement sales area because people were primarily buying Holiday presents for their family members (there were no returns on merchandise purchased “on a red ticket” in the basement).  The bargain shoppers that took the time to go down to the basement (by the elevators about 30 ft. from the Van Swearingen doors) in Nov. and Dec. found a thick, rich, malted milk product that was so thick “it won’t even come out of the glass”.  “You have to wait for the heat of your hand to warm it up, then it slides down on your nose”, family members told one and all that fateful Christmas season, “and it’s only a nickel!”.

Back in the day, department stores had to pay an “Inventory Tax” (see an Old-School Monopoly board), so stores “loaded up” the basement with everything they couldn’t sell at Christmas (and didn’t want to pay tax on, store and try to re-sell the following year).  Then, they’d sell “factory second’s” linens at a White Sale (held the last 2 weeks of January) to get people in the door in hopes that they’d buy the other stuff, too, at steep discounts.  (Businessmen, known as “factors” would purchase the merchandise that couldn’t even be sold at “bargain basement prices” from a department store at 2 to 6 cents on the dollar.)  WELLLL, so many people went to Higbee’s to try the thick malted milk they’d heard about (for only a nickel!) that Higbee’s sold out of linens in 2 days!  Because it was served in a glass, you couldn’t walk away with it, so people shopped, then bought, while they were waiting to get a glass (at times, the crowd was eleven people deep) or to finish their “Frosted Malt”.

THIS is the beginning of the “shake that is so thick it won’t come out of the glass” or “triple-thick shakes”.  Mr. Weber experimented with a Chocolate Malted Milkshake recipe until he got it just right, then produced a fresh ice cream flavor with it, Chocolate Frosted Malt.  When the people at Higbee’s “borrowed” the recipe without Mr. Weber’s permission (you can get in a lot of trouble doing that these days … Wendy’s, Pierre’s, et al) at least they reproduced what they knew, faithfully.  When it came time for May Co. to “borrow” the recipe from Higbee’s (Betty got paid vacation AND healthcare when she brought the recipe with her from Higbee’s) they halved the amount of expensive chocolate in the recipe.  The name was so long (Chocolate Frosted Malt) that Mr. Weber shortened it to Frosted Malt so it would fit on his flavor board.

Many people attempt to make “versions” of this signature product.  Some of these people would have you believe that THEY invented it, or THEY have a “secret” recipe or some other such baloney, the truth is, MR. Weber invented it and I’m the only one that can make it EXACTLY as it was back then, because I’m the only one with the machines as well as the knowledge of the ingredients that it takes to “balance” the product so that one taste will take you back to the first time you had it.  If you’ve liked it elsewhere, come try the original.