Marv Garriott was looking to get out of the restaurant business at the start of the century.
After owning a bar in Calgary and a restaurant in High River, he decided to open an antique shop in Black Diamond – a simple business he could run on his own.
“No employees, no cooks, no nothing, just you,” said Garriott.
It didn’t last long.
Seventeen years later, Garriott runs the popular, 1950s-themed Marv’s Classic Soda Shop and sells frozen treats under his growing Marvello brand.
It was not his idea when he opened his antique store in 2000.
However, food eventually slipped into the business model.
First it was candy. Garriott said he thought it was a good fit for an antique store at the time.
Then came the ice cream – three flavours at first.
“I think it was a few years in we started to do ice cream a little bit, milkshakes and stuff like that,” said Garriott. “We only had three flavours – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.”
Eventually, he said it became hard to find good quality antiques and collectors were becoming more particular about what they were buying.
Garriott said someone suggested (he says it was a former employee while she would say it was his idea) he sell hot dogs.
One thing led to another and his antique store became a restaurant.
“We started with a little grill and started doing hamburgers, then we got a couple little deep fryers and started doing potatoes and the next thing we knew we had a kitchen,” said Garriott.
As the ice cream and food sales took off, he expanded the kitchen and menu.
Marv’s has become known for finding inspiration in the 1950s-era.
“The building was built in 1934, so I was going to do a ’30s style,” said Garriott. “Everything that I did, everybody associated with the ‘50s.”
Garriott grew up in High River in the 1950s. He said it was an optimistic time when people gained more freedom.
“It was the best time to ever grow up,” he said. “The wars were all over, there was nothing but good time.”
He has been hosting his Marv’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic for 10 years – a 1950s themed festival in Black Diamond with food, a show and shine, live music and an Elvis impersonator.
Over time, Marv’s became a destination bringing in people from across the Calgary region and as far afield as Australia, Europe, Asia and India.
Always the entrepreneur, Garriott has added new offerings and special creations over the years, including carbonated ice cream. When his business was still an antique store, he said someone dropped off an old copy of The Calgary Herald with an advertisement for carbonated ice cream on the front page.
It was the start of a long fascination, and obsession.
“I haven’t slept since,” Garriott joked.
He said he spent 10 years trying to figure out how to make it before he perfected the recipe.
“I finally got, maybe four or five years ago, I got a brainstorm that actually did work,” he said. “I got a machine and I had to do some inventing and changing of the machine, but I have a machine now that will churn it out, and churn it out pretty consistently.”
Garriott recently started making his own line of popsicles. He sees opportunity to grow his popsicle business, and not just in his restaurant. He makes popsicles for sale at other Foothills locations.
“They’re all fruit, they’re all natural,” he said. “No preservatives, no artificial colours, no artificial flavours and I sweeten them all with honey from the Chinook Honey Company.”
Many of his creations are also sold under his own Marvello brand – mainly the carbonated ice cream, popsicles and malt ice cream.
“I think the Marvello brand is going to expand,” he said.
Garriott is thinking about new opportunities to branch out in different directions.
“When I get to thinking about something it’s three hours, four hours at least, maybe all night then I just can’t turn my brain off,” he said.
Although he announced last year the restaurant was up for sale, last week Garriott said he doesn’t have any plans to slow down.
“I don’t have anything else to do other than golf and I couldn’t do that seven days a week, so I might as well keep working,” he said. “My goals are bigger than my ages left.”
It’s a long way from an antique store, but Garriott is happy with it and after 17 years.
“It always changes somewhat, but I think we have our menus set pretty much to what we want,” he said. “I don’t really have to keep up with trends, I have to a little bit now with the popsicles and people are getting into more healthier things. But, it you want a hamburger, you want a hamburger. You don’t have to change that.”