Dear Canada, I am trying to figure out the origins of the Screamer
It’s part slushie and part ice cream, but is it all-Canadian?
There are generally two reactions when you tell people what a screamer is.
I know this because I’ve spent the better part of this week trying to figure out where screamers come from, and how far they’ve spread.
I’m on this quest because local legend has it the screamer was invented in my hometown of Prince George. Not only that, but the Prince George screamer may soon be spreading across the country (and possibly world) after making the leap to the convenience store big time. This could be a rare opportunity to document the mass popularization of a once-regional junk food. But first I have to figure out if the legend is true.
The Journey Begins
If you’re not yet familiar with this half-drink, half-dessert hybrid, let me introduce you. First, you take a slushie, the sort you can buy at almost any gas station. Then, you mix it with soft serve ice cream. The variety I know comes with ice cream on the top, but I’ve discovered there are variations in which the ice cream is on the bottom, in the middle, or mixed right in like a milkshake.
In Prince George, the source for screamers or, as they are properly named, Screamers, is Mr. G, a local chain of convenience stores/car washes. So popular is the treat that it was included in Tourism Prince George’s list of 365 things to do while visiting British Columbia’s northern capital.
But last year, shock waves rippled through the Screamer-loving community when it was announced that 7-Eleven had purchased nearly all the Mr. G locations and would be converting them to match their national brand. While 7-Eleven is practically synonymous with the Slurpee, their branded take on the slushie, it was unclear whether they would allow the Screamer to live on.
When I reached out to 7-Eleven management shortly after the announcement in October 2015 I was simply told,
“7-Eleven will operate the stores as they are for a period of time, in order to understand the local preferences and needs and to be sensitive to the local Mr. G’s legacy and customer following.”
And so I waited.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for…
This week, I was biking home past one of the two Mr. Gs located within a two-kilometer radius of my house when I noticed the conversion to a 7-Eleven was underway. I figured it was time to follow up on that request, so I sent an email to the communications team with three questions:
- With the acquisition of Mr. G’s by 7–11, what is the future of the “Screamer” — a popular local item combining a Slurpee and soft serve ice cream?
- Will the former Mr. G’s locations continue to serve this item as they become 7–Elevens?
- Is it possible they will be served at other 7–11 locations, as well?
The response took a few days, but the answer, I expect, will bring joy to the heart of devotees of the drink. Yes, the Screamer will live on. And not only that, it might be moving outside the city.
According to the emailed response, one of the things 7-Eleven heard “loud and clear” about what was important to existing Mr. G customers is the Screamer.
“When we asked our customers in Prince George about what was important to them, we heard Screamers loud and clear. As a result, 7-Eleven will be offering new Slurpee Screemers in all Mr. G’s stores that are converting to 7-Eleven’s. We wanted to ensure we carry on the legacy.”
“As a result,” the email continues, “7-Eleven will be offering new Slurpee Screemers in all Mr. G’s stores that are converting to 7-Eleven’s. We wanted to ensure we carry on the legacy.”
And once they see how the Screemer performs here, they’re going to consider moving it elsewhere.
This is no small thing.
Slushie is to Slurpee as Screamer is to Screemer
7-Eleven is a giant. With over fifty-thousand locations in seventeen countries, it is one of the biggest retailers in the world. And their signature product is their trademarked take on the slushie: the Slurpee. Like Kleenex or Velcro, the brand name Slurpee is practically synonymous with the generic product it represents- and with good reason. 7-Eleven popularized slushed drinks after licencing an ICEE machine in 1965. They added their own unique brand and marketing to an idea that had been floating around for a decade or so, and created a global phenomenon.
When President Obama commented that the Republicans were standing around drinking Slurpees while the Democrats were…mentalfloss.com
They stain tongues green, red, and blue; they send blood sugar levels on Odyssean voyages; they induce brain-freezes…gizmodo.com
Could they do the same for the Screamer? I notice that in their email to me, “Screamer”, spelled S-C-R-E-A-M-E-R when referring to the Mr. G version, was replaced with the “Screemer” S-C-R-E-E-M-E-R whenever they referred to the new 7-Eleven version. The groundwork for a new brand, it seems, has been laid.
Danny’s Market: Home of the Screamer (spoiler: not really)
The spelling change makes sense, because Mr. G is not the only place you can buy a s-c-r-e-a-m-e-r Screamer. A quick bit of research online finds they are sold in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, and numerous other cities, mostly in western Canada (though I was informed Quebec also has the drink, sold under the name Mont-Blanc). This lends credence to the idea that the Screamer has its origins in Canada, and most likely the west, though it also makes it less likely it is a Prince George invention. For that, multiple people pointed me toward a Richmond-based business officially named Danny’s Market but better known as Danny’s Screamers.
Numerous blog posts and Facebook fans, as well as the official Twitter account for Richmond’s tourism operators, designate Danny’s as the origin point of the Screamer. So I called them up and was greeted on the phone by Danny himself, who quickly told me the ice cream/slushie mix was a drink of his own invention.
Born in Pakistan, Danny Khataw told me that as a child he would regularly combine his ice cream with pop. Upon taking ownership of Danny’s Market in 1999, he had access to his own slushie and soft-serve ice cream machines, and decided to start selling them mixed. “Lots of people copy us,” he says, “But lots of people tell us ‘your product is the best, number one’.” As others find success making their own screamers, he has plans to expand his reach with new locations in the Lower Mainland.
And while there is no shortage of people who will attest to Danny’s Screamers’ quality, there is a problem with the timeline. Danny tells me he invented the Screamer seventeen years ago, putting its origins in 1999, but plenty of people have told me they were drinking them in the early nineties. When I ask him about this, he doesn’t deny it.
“Two years after I open it I’ve been hearing that there is Screamer in Prince George or Terrace, somewhere, in a small town, I’ve been hearing that. In a gas station somewhere?”
“Mr. G?” I ask.
“Mr. G, yes, yes,” he says. “But I’ve never tried their quality, so I don’t know.”
Nuthin’ But A G-Thang?
So we’re back to Prince George as the possible birthplace of the Screamer. I found a Tweet posted by the Mr. G account in 2014 saying that the Screamer was invented by “Larry, the owner of Mr. G”. I’ve put in a few calls to a man named Larry who is listed as the store’s owner online, but haven’t heard back. I also found an old newspaper ad from 1989, a full decade before Danny’s Screamers, celebrating the grand opening of Mr. G’s ninth location in Prince George. And what are they advertising for sale, right under Hee Man Subs and Jumbo Hot Dogs?
Mr. G’s Famous Screamers, 79 cents each.
The year to beat: 1989
So is it possible this hot-weather drink actually was invented in Prince George, up in northern British Columbia? It’s tough to tell where these things come from. Another unlikely combination of fattening foods, poutine, has no fewer than four possible origin stories. But just as poutine is being popularized internationally after being adopted by McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, I’m interested in getting to the source of the Screamer before 7-Eleven takes it worldwide.
This is where you come in. This advertisement from 1989 is the earliest mention of the Screamer I’ve been able to find, but maybe you have another. Memories are good, but photographic evidence is better. Newspaper clippings, recipes, a picture of you as a child slurping iced pop and ice cream through a straw.
If you think you know where the screamer came from, let me know. You can leave a reply below, or you can find me on Twitter @akurjata or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also interested in mapping current locations to obtain the Screamer, so let me know about those, as well.
The future of the Screamer in the time of the Screemer
By the way, the conversion of the Mr. G Screamer to the 7-Eleven “Screemer” is underway. 7-Eleven purchased five Mr. Gs, all of which are either now 7-Elevens or undergoing the renovations to become one. With those renovations come new Slurpee-branded slushies, and a different blend of ice cream- a new recipe for an old favourite.
If they sell well here, the Screemer could spread, from Prince George to Vancouver to Winnipeg- even around the world, through one of the most far-reaching convenience store chains in the business. And if that happens, the popularity of the Prince George Screamer will be the reason, no matter who first thought to put ice cream on top of slushed ice.
And for those who swear by the Mr. G original, all is not lost. Two locations weren’t purchased by 7-Eleven, and instead were sold separately. Neither will be a Mr. G, but one of them, the one on Spruce Street off of Highway 97, told me they plan to continue serving the classic Screamer.
Their ice cream machine is operational at the end of March.
Thanks for reading. I hope this reaches as many people as possible in order to find the true origins of the Screamer, so please consider recommending this story by hitting the heart below, and sharing this on Facebook and Twitter. And remember, if you have something to add you can do so by leaving a comment on this story. I appreciate your help!