Growing up as a kid in Ohio, Joseph Sapp, founder of the Original Rainbow Cone, was an orphan on a work farm. One of his few luxuries was buying ice cream for the pennies he earned, but his only choices were vanilla or chocolate. Sapp actually wanted all those and more flavors on his ice cream cone. As an adult he worked as a Buick mechanic by day, and started Original Rainbow in 1926 with wife Katherine. The Rainbow Cone went through many variations, but trial and error revealed the winning combination of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House, pistachio and orange sherbet.
Sapp chose the location on 92nd and Western because he could see Western would soon become a major thoroughfare. At the time, Chicago really only extended as far south as the Bridgeport area. Beyond 95th street, however, were the centuries-old cemeteries that Chicagoans visited every Sunday. On their way back home, patrons would stop in for a cone. It didn’t take long for Rainbow to become its own attraction. After four years, the Sapps had saved up enough money to build the current Rainbow store, which was only one story at the time. Since the spread of information was limited during the war years, Sapp designed a short-wave radio that people in the neighborhood would listen to while munching on their cones. Rainbow become a place for gatherings, family outings and dates.
Robert Sapp, Joseph’s son, slowly began taking over the business through the ‘60s and ‘70s, taking it through more innovations to meet customer demand, such as having take-home containers for customers to share with people who couldn’t travel to the Southside.
Robert’s daughter Lynn Sapp bought the business in 1986. Her biggest challenge at the time was bringing Rainbow into the modern age, and spreading the word beyond the Southside of Chicago. One way she did this was by participating in the Taste of Chicago for more than 27 years, and placing in the top five vendors for several years in a row. She also developed Rainbow cakes, which dedicated Rainbow fans use to celebrate all occasions, even weddings.
Rainbow Cone History