Berkeley Flashback: The Crunchy Munchy Man

By Rachael Rifkin

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a perpetually cheerful older gentleman who wore a white smock and cap while peddling ice cream on the Berkeley campus. He was known as the Crunchy Munchy Man and was a fixture on campus from 1952 to 1968. He often stationed himself outside Sather Gate, and his customers—the students of UC Berkeley—came, it seems, as much for the friendly service and engaging conversation as they did for the ice cream.

Or as the California Pelican put it in a profile of him, “He has become a real friend of the Cal student, vending his wares with both a smile and a bit of counsel on anything from philosophy to physics.”

I knew him as Alfred Dattner, my maternal grandmother’s father. I grew up hearing about him from my mom, his granddaughter, who mostly remembered him for his ice cream. As a kid, having a grandfather who sold ice cream was for her a fantasy come true, especially since visits always included a truck full of the stuff. (“You could have as much ice cream as you wanted?” I’d ask. “And he’d fill your freezer in the garage with ice cream before he left?!” I had a hard time comprehending unfettered access to an unimaginable quantity of the dessert.)

Later on, I asked my grandmother questions about him so I could get a better picture of what he was like. She said he was a kind person and good father, who tried to spend as much time with her as he could, especially after he and her mother divorced. She remembered him spending hours talking to her from below her bedroom window.

I didn’t even know about his other persona, until I spotted a collection of his stuff while helping clear out my grandparents’ house. When Alfred passed away in 1968 from heart failure, he left behind family pictures going back to the 1800s, a trail of paper work that filled in some of the blanks in his life, and artifacts from his 18 years as Crunchy Munchy Man, or California Al as he sometimes was known.

Crunchy Munchy Man was created when my great-grandfather was in his late 50s. He was an amalgamation of all the experiences and jobs Alfred had had up until then.

Born in Poland in 1893, he came to the U.S. as a young man, settling in Michigan and eventually becoming fluent in both written and spoken English. He had a series of odd jobs and careers, often working as a machinist (specifically, a lathe machine operator) and owning and operating a couple gas stations between the 1920s and early 1930s. He became a U.S. citizen in 1928 when he was 35 and his daughter, my grandmother, was 2 years old.

In midst of the Great Depression in the 1930s, he went back to being a machinist. Sometime between then and WWII, he got divorced and became a government inspector for the Department of War in Michigan.

In the late 1940s with my grandmother grown and in college, he headed out west to the Bay Area. My grandfather met him for the first time when he was stationed in San Francisco en route to Korea during the Korean War. He wrote about that meeting in a letter to my grandmother, describing his father-in-law as an enthusiastic, jolly person who was easily excitable. He also noted that Alfred was currently working as a barker  in San Francisco, where he learned skills that he would directly employ as Crunchy Munchy Man.

He was used to reinventing himself. He had left Poland for the U.S., gone from being a machinist to a gas station owner/operator and on to charming salesman. In Crunchy Munchy Man he found his longest and best fitting career and persona: ice cream salesman who befriends fraternity members, proudly places third place in an Ugly Man Contest held on campus, and uses rhyme to sell his goods (“Crunchy Munchy, Eat them after lunchy. You should, they’re good.”).

The Daily Californian described him in an article from their May 17, 1965 edition. “Crunchy knows he has a role to play: the carefree spunky little man with a bright word for everybody and he plays his role well. So well, in fact, that his fan club at Kappa Nu fraternity, gave him a semi-lavish birthday party three years ago, when he was 69, and has declared, on an official rolled-declaration that Saturday, May 15 is Crunchy Munchy Day.”

The trophy he received at that birthday party now sits on top of my tea cabinet. And almost 50 years after he died, he is still remembered as a colorful Berkeley character.

“I made the time to spend the entire day with Alf,” said William “Bill” Stricklin, a lawyer who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1959. The day began early in the morning when the two walked to the neighbor’s garage where the ice cream bars were stashed, and where they’d return many times during the course of the day to get replacements.

“His big smile and enthusiastic love of people translated to a big clientele who dearly loved to buy from him,”Stricklin added. “He was one of the kindest individuals I have ever known.”

Filed under: Cal Culture
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Especially in this day and age, it’s great to read a “feel good” story about how Cal used to be.
As someone involved in trying to find images for a display in a new building, I find it extremely frustrating that you never give the sources of the images. It would be wonderful to include one of these images in a historical display relating to the university, but there is no indication of how and where to find the originals and, if necessary, how to get permission to use them. And exactly what do ‘save’ and ‘preview’ mean below this comment form. All I want to do is SEND the message!
I remember Al vividly. I was an undergraduate from 1953 to 1957, and a Boalt Hall student from 1957 to 1960. I said hello to Al almost every week day during my undergraduate days. Although I probably never bought anything from him he was always friendly and referred to me in Yiddish as “Boychik” (“Young Man”). His chant was “Crunchy munchy. It’s good after lunchy.”
I married my wife Marge in 1960. Her Dad, Ray Scholz, looked enough like Al, that they could be mistaken as brothers. Ray had a part-time business where he sold “Gremlins” at Cal’s football games on Saturday afternoons in Memorial Stadium in the late 50’s - early 60’s. :-)
The picture of Al shows him with a group of my undergraduate fraternity brothers.
Al Dattner, the Crunchy Munchy Man, was an integral part of the campus in the late 50’s and early 60’s. His cheery and somewhat hoarse call told us that all was well.
That’s cool! Are you still in contact with any of them? Are you in the picture?
“Gremlins” were one of the highlights of attending Cal football games for me (1963-68). Ray usually requested that the buyer throw the money to him and he would fire back the change. Along with “rolling-up” someone from the lower rows right to the top and out of the stadium and watching the great Jim Hunt whenever he got a chance to play (backing up Craig Morton) we had the best Saturday afternoons of all time! Go bears!!
These were glorious days at Cal: 1956-60. Strong academics, wonderful fraternity brothers at Kappa Nu, and characters in the best sense of the word like the Crunchy Munchy Man. Thank you so much for posting this and bringing back warm memories
Thank you for the wonderful memories of U.C. Berkeley in the late 50’s. It was a time of innocence in so many ways with figures like the Crunchy Munchy Man adding to the flavor of college life. The members of Kappa Nu loved Al and did our best to keep his inventory moving.
I too remember the wonderful times I had at Kappa Nu and Cal in 1956-1958(no I didn’t flunk out, but I transferred to UCLA). Along with the Crunchy-Munchy man, who religiously supported, I also never forgot the man who showed up at Kappa Nu around 10pm most week days. He sold the most delicious English Muffin hamburgers, for 50 cents, complete with cheese, pickles, relish, lettuce and tomatoes. Consuming one of those allowed you to continue with your late night cramming. Anyone remember his name?? One other thought re Gremlins. In my time at Cal when attending Cal games, we always ate half and threw the other half. It made for a unique gratis, tie-dye t-shirt.
That’s me……second from left……..good times too often not appreciated enough.
We all loved Al. I looked at the picture again and Russell Anders looks so much like a fine fellow I knew called Russell Auswacks…the resemblance is so striking it is almost spooky. In any case, we will always remember The Crunchy Munchy Man with great fondness.
That’s so nice to hear!
… and of course many of us will remember the Axe Revue when KN put on a skit that had a Mafia theme. Throughout there was a large wing-back chair with its’ back to the audience. The “Boss” was in that chair, not visible to the audience. Various characters came to him for advice on how to steal the axe etc. Smoke from his cigar kept appearing over the chair. Finally came the big moment when the boss’ chair was turned around revealing that the boss was …. you guessed it … Al, who jumped up and shouted his favorite cry, “Crunchy Munchy, Crunchy Munchy, Crunch for your Lunchie” The audience went wild and, needlesss to say, we walked away with the trophy ….. again.
Kappa Nu was a very special place at Cal. Tops in sports, tops in GPA, tops in Axe Revue and tops in caring about one another. It also destroyed the bias that prevented Jews and those of color from joining the so called “elite” fraternities by going out and “rushing” non Jews and every hue of humanity and then actually pledging them. Folks forget the bigotry and institutional racism still rampant at Cal in the 1950’s…dirty little secret that Kappa Nu Fraternity helped illuminate and then encourage its eradication.
I was one of the lucky goyim who got pledged to Kappa Nu. In part it was because of my BFF, Darrell Sevilla, who was a member of KN, but it was also because I enjoyed the intelligence, humor, and even the whacky kind of spiritual dimension that I found there. My time at KN was, and remains, one of my fondest memories of my time at Cal. Many of the friends and brothers that I made there continue to be my friends and inspirations all these years later.
My dad, Marvin “Buddy” Lavin was a member of Kappa Nu in the late 50’s, and I am named after Darrell Sevilla, something I am very proud of.
Dear Darrell. I pledged Kappa Nu in 1956. Your dad was a member at that time. It was a long time ago, but I remember your Dad as a big, friendly, very smart young man. Darrell Sevilla was the brilliant John Belushi of our fraternity and kind of was the glue that kept it together then and for a long time after we all graduated. One inside story: Darrell liked to tease, almost bedevil your Dad. Darrell used to get bananas and ripen them to the point of liquidification before placing them in your Dad’s boots. Imagine the roar when the foot hit the banana. May the memories of all Kappa Nu’s be for a blessing: #1 in fraternity gpa’s; #1 or damn close to it in intramurals (loved taking it to the SAE’s and other groups to which we were not “allowed” to pledge) and definitely #1 in parties and talent shows. I am sure our Darrell would be proud of you.
I remember the Crunchy Munchy Man well also, but I don’t associate him with Cal. (I was a student there between 1964 and 1970). But before my college days, back in the fifties, I encountered him often at the Albany Community Center where I took swimming lessons after school with my school mates. He would park his ice cream truck prominently at the pick-up and drop-off point for the pool and make his pitch for all to hear: “Crunchy, munchy, good after lunchy!” What a character!
My father, Ronnie “Sweet Pea” Moskowitz (later Morrow), was a Kappa Nu, and Cal undergrad from 1956-59/60. He passed in 1994. However, I grew up hearing all of the stories from my dad and Darrell Sevilla, stayed in contact with Darrell, and spoke at his memorial. I am trying to get ahold of some of the content from, which seems to have disappeared, including the video of Darell, my dad, and the other KNs. Does anyone know who has it? Go Bears!