The Awful Awful is a quirky Rhode Island drink that survived multiple bankruptcies and the machinations of Wall Street.
Many New Englanders remember when it was sold throughout the region. And then it morphed – some say tragically – into a Fribble. Today you can only get an Awful Awful in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.
The Awful Awful is an ultra-thick milkshake with ice milk that makes the difference. "It's a drink!" explains the advertising copy.
The Rhode Island blog Quahog.org describes it as a cousin of the cabinet and the frappe, and an evil twin of the Fribble.
Awful Awful History
Today the Awful Awful is the signature drink of Newport Creamery, which has 10 casual restaurants in Rhode Island and two in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Newport Creamery started in 1928 when Samuel Rector took over a wholesale dairy in Newport. His son joined the company in 1932 and they began delivering milk to homes on Aquidneck Island. The Rectors opened a milk bar in 1940 in Middletown, where the company's flagship restaurant and plant are still located.
It was during the 1940s that Bond’s, a New Jersey ice cream maker, concocted a recipe for a milkshake that used ice milk and syrup. One customer chugged the 24 oz. drink and said it was "awful big and awful good." Hence the name Awful Awful.
After the war the Rectors expanded the Newport Creamery, opening milk bars and restaurants in Southern New England. Meanwhile, another Depression-era milk bar was on the move.
Enter the Fribble
In 1935, brothers Curtis and S. Prestley Blake had opened the Friendly ice cream shop in Springfield, Mass., selling double-scoop ice cream cones for 5 cents. After World War II, they began to open restaurants in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts.
In 1948, Bond’s made a deal with Newport Creamery to sell the Awful Awful under its trade name. Friendly made the same deal. Neither company could sell Awful Awfuls under that name if it expanded into New Jersey.
Friendly moved into New Jersey. The company held a contest to rename the Awful Awful. Three customers came up with ‘Fribble.’ Each won $100 for his effort.
Eventually, Friendly made the Fribble with soft ice cream and no ice milk. Now it’s made with hard ice cream, to the consternation of Awful Awful purists.
When Bond’s went bankrupt in the early1970s, Newport Creamery bought the rights to the name Awful Awful for $1,000.
Friendly’s was sold to the Hershey Foods Corporation in 1979, then sold again. It officially became Friendly’s in 1989, and was batted about by various investors who finally drove it into bankruptcy in 2011. Perhaps they shouldn’t have tampered with the Fribble recipe.
The Rectors sold Newport Creamery in the late 1990s and soon after it went bankrupt. In 2001, Newport Creamery was sold at auction to the Jan Companies, a local Burger King franchisee.
You can still get an Awful Awful. Since 2009, Newport Creamery offered "Awful Awful Mondays" during the summer, when customers can "buy one, get one free."
If you drink three, you can get one free. But don’t try it.
This story was updated in 2017.