They're Leaving More Than Bigger Waistlines In Their Wake -- After 17 Years, Brothers Sell Fratelli's Ice Cream

Gourmet ice cream, fireworks and a pig.

Sound like the ingredients of a bad joke? Maybe so, but in this case they're just part of the legacy that John and Peter Morse have left Seattle.

The brothers who founded Fratelli's Ice Cream 17 years ago have sold their company. The sale to new owner Nevil Hermer, the former president of Speedy Autoglass who first moved to Seattle in 1981, was final in late July.

Native Chicagoans John, 45, and Peter, 47, made a name for themselves in Seattle not only with their gourmet all-natural ice cream, but also with a public commitment to their adopted hometown.

Beginning in 1988, the brothers launched the Fourth of July fireworks celebrations on Lake Union. The annual pyrotechnics display, now a tradition, has been continued by AT&T.

The Morse brothers also donated Rachel, the 550-pound bronze piggy bank in front of Pike Place Market. The overstuffed porker has become a cash cow for the Pike Place Market Foundation, bringing in $6,000-$8,000 annually for the foundation's social service agencies.

The Morses' company, named for the Italian word for brothers, has also been a sponsor at other Seattle events such as Bumbershoot and Seafair.

While they sold a majority interest in the company to Hermer, the brothers' last act as owners was to give seven of their key employees significant amounts of Fratelli's closely held stock, making them all part-owners.

Rewarding the employees was an easy decision for the Morses to make.

"As my brother told them when we announced the deal, `You always did your job as if it was your business. Well, now it is,' " John said.

In 1981, John and Peter started Fratelli's with the help of a loan from the Small Business Administration. They teamed up with Walter Fuchs at the Flett Dairy in Tacoma. Fuchs, in addition to being their ice-cream manufacturer, soon became a mentor and trusted business adviser.

Before long, Fratelli's was being sold in supermarket chains and small groceries throughout the Puget Sound area. The company also became the exclusive distributor in Washington for M&M Mars brand Dove bars - an arrangement that accounts for the biggest portion of their sales.

New owner Hermer said the work atmosphere the Morses created and their involvement in the community were among the reasons he was attracted to the company.

While growing the business is his primary concern - last year the company did about $11 million in sales - Hermer said he plans to maintain the company's profile in Seattle's community events.

For the Morse brothers, there are mixed emotions as they put Fratelli's in their rear-view mirror.

"It's sort of like being a grandparent; it was just time for us to let go," John said.

The brothers said they have no definite plans other than to spend more time with their families.

"We're both enjoying the chance to truly be a free agent," Peter said. "We both have young families and besides, how many other dads have a chance to build up callouses from hitting grounders to their kids?"

Joe Heim's phone message number is 206-464-3328. His e-mail address is: