It's-It! The San Francisco Treat That Sparked a Cult Following

5 min
 (Olivia Allen-Price/KQED)

San Franciscans have been having a love-affair with this ice cream treat since 1928. Bay Curious is a podcast from KQED that answers questions about the Bay Area.

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t's rare to meet a true San Francisco native. In a city almost completely overrun these days with advancement and development and the future, we find brief moments of peace and solace in anything that came before the first tech bubble burst.

My husband, Seth, and I are not natives. Far from it. He hails from Georgia and I from Colorado. I moved to the Bay Area three years ago, and I often find myself trying to puzzle out the "real" San Francisco.

I first heard about It's-It ice cream bars from my sister-in-law. She was the first to mention them, but then everyone worth their San Francisco salt had a word to describe the bars: intrinsic, essential, authentic, old-school San Francisco, I was told.

It's-It belongs to a different era. In 1928, George Whitney, manager of a well-loved, long gone Ocean Beach amusement park, Playland, invented a soon-to-be classic. The It's-It: cookie, ice cream, cookie, chocolate.

Playland was located at Ocean Beach, just north of Golden Gate Park. It closed in 1972.
Playland was located at Ocean Beach, just north of Golden Gate Park. It closed in 1972. (San Francisco Public Library)

The sandwich has survived nearly 90 years. It's seen the construction of the both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge; witnessed the New York Giants move to San Francisco; lived through the Summer of Love, the rise and fall of the Beat Poets, the assassinations of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. That sandwich has felt earthquakes, won three World Series, and seen the city swell with pride and wealth and a bit of self-loathing following not one, but two tech booms.

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The dessert has even endured multiple owners. In the 1970s, the original formula and name were sold to an immigrant with an eye on the American Dream: Mr. Charles Shamieh. He didn't quite stick to the recipe -- he made it his own -- but the concept, the name, the title it had earned, that bit of original San Francisco, is still tucked between those cookie walls.

Today, they're made at a factory in Burlingame that you may pass on U.S. 101.

Last summer, It's-It announced the introduction of two new flavors to the classically short list of options: pumpkin and strawberry. So we went to the factory. We met the Shamieh family. We saw nothing. We went all the way to Burlingame, and were told that no one gets to see inside the It's-It factory.

So we took to the streets. We wanted to see what people really think about It's-Its, and if they'd care at all about the change.

Almost every person we stopped on the street had an opinion. Most of them had tried the ice cream sandwich at one point or another during their time in San Francisco. Some had routines that included the ice cream in their weekly, or nightly, schedule. Some remembered childhoods filled with family and that particular treat.

Tatiana Rivera, 22, told us she's been eating vanilla It's-Its since she was seven years old. We asked her if she always gets the vanilla, and she said yes. "I just can't get over it," she said.

Steve Cox told us, "This is personal. I've been having an affair with It's-It for 17 years."

"It's a treat -- a San Francisco treat," said John Stillwater. "It's good. Nothing super special. It's not gonna change your life. It's just a yummy little ice cream sandwich."

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