Tommy’s restaurant is famous for its shakes, making it the perfect place to celebrate National Vanilla Milkshake Day

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – As temperatures across Northeast Ohio soar, many of us are turning to a smooth and creamy milkshake as a way to cool off. Today – June 20 – is the perfect day to do it, too. It’s National Vanilla Milkshake Day.

You can trace the history of the modern-day milkshake back to Walgreen’s employee Ivan Coulson, a soda fountain jerk, who in 1922 added “generous” scoops of ice cream to the drug store’s malted milk beverage to give it a thicker consistency and richer flavor .

In a recent study of preferred milkshake flavors in each state in the nation by RTA Outdoor Living, vanilla topped the charts in just five states.

At Tommy’s on Coventry – heralded for their thick, rich shakes for the last 50 years – Stephanie Gruber says vanilla shakes have always been one of their biggest sellers, outsold only by traditional chocolate.

Tom Fello began his food service career as a soda jerk at age 14 in a local drug store. He opened Tommy’s in 1972 – and grabbed national attention that same year when Rolling Stone Magazine voted their shakes the “Best Milkshake East of the Mississippi.” The recipe has stayed the same ever since.

Employees — and brothers Harrison (left) and Jackson (right) Gruber — are grandsons of Tommy Fello owner of Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

“Dad started the restaurant with a process, and to this day we still make our milkshakes the same way he did back then,” said Gruber, Tommy’s daughter, who has taken over more of the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. “All the ingredients are locally sourced – Pierre’s Ice Cream, and milk from Hartzler Dairy in Wooster.

“The quality of our ingredients makes for the best milkshakes and it is worth it to us to spend the money it takes to make a really good milkshake,” said Gruber. “Our customers are paying a bit of a healthy price for our shakes and they expect quality ingredients. But more importantly, they don’t want us to change anything, that is, ultimately why we keep things the way they have always been.”

Gruber estimates milkshake sales to make up about 65 percent of the restaurant’s business each week. If you are looking at just sales of drinks, that percentage skyrockets to 85 percent.

Tommy's Restaurant

There are many milkshake flavors to pick from at Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

Shake sales are so high, that Tommy’s had to have a custom milkshake spinner rack made to hold the nine mixers they need to keep up with the demand.

What makes Tommy’s shakes so irresistible?

“It’s a science,” said Gruber, matter-of-factly.

“We use perfect amounts of each ingredient – ​​always the same amount of milk and the same amount of ice cream. And then we have to be really accountable for the other ingredients because those extra ingredients can make the shakes too thin. Then it’s just a matter of spinning it perfectly,” she explained

Tommy's Restaurant

Blending up a vanilla milkshake at Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

“It’s all about the tap”

Then there is the matter of getting the perfect pour.

Shakes are delivered to the table in the same metal glass they are made in. Servers make a show out of perfectly filling the fountain glass with a neatly poured shake by tapping the metal mixer cup on the side of the glass, before leaving behind the rest of the shake – what amounts to a second helping — on the table in its original metal container.

Tommy's Restaurant

Two finished vanilla shakes at Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

Tommy's Restaurant

Vanilla shake from Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

Sadly, customers don’t seem to get the connection between the tap and the pour.

When it comes time to refill their glass, Gruber estimates about 80 percent of Tommy’s customers dump some of the shake out on the table.

“Our shakes are so thick, that sitting in that metal container for a while causes somewhat of a solid clump to form in the center of the shake. Customers need to take the time to swirl in around a few times to break up the solid center, then ‘do the tap’ as they pour to get it all in the glass.

“It’s okay, we are patient with the spills and are always sure to have plenty of napkins available,” Gruber said. “But who wants to miss out on any of the shakes?”

Tommy's Restaurant

Jackson Gruber is waiting for the next milkshake order at Tommy’s Restaurant, located at 1824 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights.

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