WHAT started off in 1924 as a tiny seaside dairy with cows in the backyard became a landmark East London milkbar with delicious “secret recipe” milkshakes that have become world renowned.
Friesland Milkbar milkshakes have achieved iconic status not only in East London, but the world over, with former East Londoners craving a hit of the thick and creamy treat that comes in flavours that range from bubblegum to chocolate and grape to Milo.
“People who grew up in East London and moved away always return here to stock up with milkshakes – some even fly bottles home with them,” said Sameer Cassiram, 30, whose father Kishore took over the business in 1975 and inherited the delectable milkshake recipe from former owner Soni van der Walt.
The top secret recipe is now securely stored in a bank.
“Friesland is famous. I was in Cavendish Square in Cape Town recently and people came up to me asking ‘where’s the shop?’ They thought we had opened one there! And when I was on a cruise in the Bahamas, a waiter asked about Friesland when he realised I was an East Londoner. He could not believe it when I said I was one of the owners!
“In the holidays we get people from the Free State and Gauteng and often on the last day they come back and ask us to freeze milkshakes for them to take home.”
Nostalgia plays a big role in the business and its customers who have sentimental memories of balmy summer days sipping on mouth- watering milkshakes.
“People visit today and say they remember coming here 35 years ago with their families or their girlfriends,” said Cassiram, who first started working behind the counter when he was 16, before going on to graduate from Rhodes University with a social science degree.
While Friesland was run solely as a dairy until the late forties, milkshakes and ice creams became a feature in 1948 when teenagers and families would perch at the long red and yellow counter to enjoy banana splits, chocolate sundaes, jumbo parfaits and soda specials. American diner-style booths lined the milkbar which is still in its original corner location on Tennyson Street.
Although the dynamic Cassiram family moves with the times and Friesland Milkbar now sports an impressively curved granite-topped counter, the secret recipes of the milkshakes, ice creams and ice cream sauces never changes.
“No one knows the milkshake recipes – it is a secret and that’s what makes us special,” said Cassiram, whose birthdays were red letter days on the school calendar.
“All my school friends remember my class parties because they would all get a bottle of milkshake.”
While the original corner milkbar continues to draw milkshake aficionados from all corners of the globe, the newer Friesland outlet at Hemingways mall is enticing a whole new generation of milkshake maniacs.
And for those living further afield and longing for their favourite swig of milkshake or lick of Friesland ice cream which is made above the shop, a franchise may also be on the cards, according to Cassiram.
“We have a book full of people from all over South Africa who have enquired about buying into a franchise, so that is the ultimate goal now.”