Local Toowoomba Icon: The Weis Ice Cream Factory
One of Toowoomba’s greatest icons is perhaps Weis ice cream.
Locally known as the Fruito Bar, the dessert had a reputation well before the rise of social media – with interstate visitors seeking out the frozen treat whenever they were in town.
While we are all saddened about the future of the company we can also celebrate its rich past, which is intertwined into the fabric of Toowoomba’s community.
The Weis bar goes back to 1936, when Toowoomba corner-store owner Cyril Weis created a slab of ice cream known as the Fruito Bar.
The Fruito Bar gained a reputation and was renowned in the Darling Downs, but wartime rations came into effect in 1942 and cream, fruit and sugar purchases were restricted. This snuffed out production.
Cyril Weis held on to his secret recipe tightly. In 1957 Les Weis, Cyril’s son, relaunched the Fruito Bar, with his wife Val. The concept of the sweet treat was based on a fruit salad and ice cream and the original flavour was a mix of pineapple, banana, passionfruit and cream.
The couple sold the Fruito Bar from Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Café. This was conveniently located across the road from the cinema and moviegoers would grab ice creams during intermission.
The Fruito Bar grew in popularity and in 1959 the mango and cream bar – Weis’ greatest hit – was introduced. Les Weis began to sell the ice cream at his brother’s corner store and other outlets in Toowoomba started to follow suit.
The dessert developed a cult following. Visitors to Toowoomba sought the Fruito Bar out and interstate demand for it grew.
Les and Val started to experiment with different fruits to create new flavours, which made their business even more lucrative.
In 1967 the couple decided to convert their Toowoomba corner store into Weis’ first manufacturing plant. It wasn’t long before Weis bars were sold all over the country and overseas.
In the late nineties, Weis’ ice creams became more familiar on international shores. The company began to export to Japan and later to South Korea and Canada. In 2008, the desserts were stocked in the freezers of Trader Joe’s in the USA. In 2016 Weis was available in China and international conglomerates were watching the brand’s trajectory closely.
Still the company remained in family hands for a long time. In 2009 Julie Weis and her brother Peter Weis were the joint managing directors, their younger sister was on the board alongside their parents Les and Val.
Production too was local. The mangoes were picked from north Queensland every December and processed to be frozen, creating a frenzied atmosphere in their Toowoomba factory in the summer months.
In 2009 the Weis Bar was announced as one of Queensland’s 150 cultural icons during the State’s 150th birthday.
In 2017 Weis was sold to Unilever for an undisclosed price. Julie Weis was the managing director of Weis Frozen Foods at the time and said she believed the sale would help the Weis brand globally, especially in foreign markets.
“Distribution in ice cream and frozen foods is always difficult – taking samples to state fairs in China is very difficult,” she told the Australian Financial Review. “We have been dipping our toes in China for the last 18 months – Unilever plans in the first instance to improve distribution locally then look further afield.”
Les Weis was also excited about the new opportunity. “Val has always said to me ‘Business is like a wheelbarrow, it doesn’t go anywhere unless someone pushes it’ and I think Unilever will give Weis just the push it needs,” he told media.
Unfortunately that push has been southward with production moving to Minto in New South Wales in the coming years. Toowoomba will lose almost 100 jobs, with the closure of the local Weis Factory. The Weis family was disappointed by this outcome as Weis was very much a Toowoomba institution.
While locals will no doubt miss its presence in Toowoomba, we all remain very proud of this local Toowoomba icon. Summer just isn’t complete without a Weis bar.