The Emperor Norton Sundae: Vintage Ghirardelli Menus Edition
In 2004, a keen-eyed observer noticed that the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company had taken the Emperor Norton Sundae off the menus of its Ice Cream & Chocolate Shops.
The Emperor Norton appears to have been on the Ghirardelli menu for at least 40 years.
Back in the day, a Ghirardelli shop was called a Soda Fountain & Candy Shop. And the Emperor Norton Sundae was one of only five "Nob Hill Sundaes" on the menu.
In the early 1960s, the Emperor Norton went for $1.25, and it had "half of a walnut on top."
By the mid 1970s, the Emperor Norton had inched up to $1.75. And now, rather than having "half of a walnut on top," it was "topped with nuts" — no doubt, a concession to the economic necessity of getting the most out of every bulk bag of nuts, including the little pieces at the bottom.
In 1984, the Emperor Norton Sundae was $3.70. Nothing else had changed.
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Twenty years later, the Emperor Norton was gone. In August 2004, Cammy Blackstone — then a morning show host at San Francisco radio station KFRC — registered her dismay at her discovery of the deletion. Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on this (sixth item here).
Veteran California historian Robert Chandler picked up on Garchik's report with a letter to the editor of the Chronicle, in which Chandler suggested that "if San Francisco wishes to do penance for these slights to His Majesty, the city could lobby for the never named western span of the Bay Bridge to become the Emperor Norton Bridge." Chandler formalized the suggestion with a letter to then-mayor Gavin Newsom.
This episode appears to have been the spur for longtime Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank (1943-2007) to pen his extended Farley comic strip series educating readers on the story of Emperor Norton and carrying the flag for naming part of the Bay Bridge for the Emperor.
The Farley series on the Emperor and his bridge ran from September 2004 to March 2005. (You can see the whole series, together with Chandler's letters, here.) About midway through this period, then — and now, again — San Francisco District 3 supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a resolution to name the entire Bay Bridge system for Emperor Norton.
In December 2004, the Board of Supervisors did pass a resolution. But it was to name only the new eastern crossing of the bridge — the "Oakland side" — for the Emperor. Shortly after this — surprise! — the bridge-naming effort ran aground.
But I digress. This is a piece about ice cream.
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To be fair, the Emperor Norton is not the only longstanding Ghirardelli sundae to have been shown the door. Of the five Nob Hill Sundaes that anchored the Ghirardelli menu for decades, only the Golden Gate Banana Split and the Strike It Rich still are on the menu today. The Twin Peaks and The Rock also have been discontinued.
But it's the loss of the Emperor Norton Sundae that seems to rile. Over the last couple of years, our good friend Joseph Amster, who plays Emperor Norton as an historical walking tour guide and general character-about-town, has been waging a campaign of sorts to bring the Emperor Norton back to Ghirardelli.
So far, the demand has fallen on deaf ears at Ghirardelli. If the company doesn't mend its ways, Joseph has pledged to stage a protest this September in Ghirardelli Square.
Will the Emperor Norton Sundae return to the Ghirardelli menu? Certainly, the ingredients already are on hand in every Ghirardelli shop. Vanilla ice cream, bananas, hot fudge sauce, cherries, whipped cream and nuts. Couldn't be simpler, really.
Stay tuned. Perhaps before long you once again will be able pop in to a Ghirardelli shop to check your choice of an Emperor Norton. Just like in the 1970s.
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