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SUNDAY STORY:Frozen in history

Don Phillips started it all on the peninsula around 1940. The idea became a Newport Beach icon, led to numerous other banana stands, and even played a key role in a prime-time TV show.

March 17, 2007|By Jessie Brunner

There are two kinds of people in Newport Beach: Those who say the frozen banana was invented on Balboa Island, and those who argue it was born a fraction of a mile away on Balboa Peninsula.

But everyone would agree that the frozen banana's origin is a mystery wrapped inside a chocolate shell surrounded in a crunchy topping.

Whether fans of bananas dipped in sprinkles or chopped nuts, summer vacationers to Newport Beach have savored the icy treat for decades as a quick and cost-effective way to beat the heat. The local legend was even picked up by the prime-time TV show "Arrested Development," which centered on the fabulously wealthy Bluth family, which owned a frozen banana stand on Balboa Island.

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Yet the dessert's precise derivation has long baffled banana lovers.

At long last, inquiring minds have their answer: Don Phillips, also known as the frozen banana king, opened the first frozen banana stand on Balboa Peninsula circa 1940, though it didn't take long before they were popping up all over the place.

"Don opened the first shop right by the ferry landing on the peninsula," said Ed Richardson, who moved from Hollywood to Balboa Island in 1927 as a 5-year-old. "There were lots of ice cream places around, but a frozen banana was quite a unique thing in the early 1940s."

Though he's always preferred a Balboa Bar — vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate — to a frozen banana, longtime local George Grupe agreed that Phillips was the first local vendor of the sweet treat. And Grupe recalls the merchant managing a penny arcade at the fun zone just about the time he opened the banana stand.

"Don Phillips is the guy who made the first successful frozen banana just before the start of World War II," Grupe, 85, said. "I know of nobody else who made them before Don, or as successfully as he did."

Aptly naming his shop the Original Frozen Banana, Phillips appealed to fun zone frolickers and people lining up to board the ferry. He was a stickler when it came to quality and trusted only himself and his mother-in-law to prepare the bananas.

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