A New Jersey-based ice cream shop is going back to its Coney Island roots! Coney Waffle has officially joined the Surf Avenue strip, serving up decadent frosty treats just in time for a sweltering summer season.
The ice creamery opened its first New York location in Coney Island last week. The People’s Playground parlor is Coney Waffle’s fifth location; the rest of the shops are in New Jersey, despite the ode to southern Brooklyn in its name.
“It’s born in Coney Island, there is a nostalgia to it,” said Joseph D’Especito, the business’ founder.
Since opening its first store in Belmar, New Jersey in 2017, the frozen dessert seller has become known for its over-the-top ice creams, milkshakes, ice cream cakes and other confections — like the Sideshow Shake and Oreo Ice Cream Cake. It now even has a test kitchen dedicated to crafting new concoctions.
“We put a twist on everything, we just opened a test kitchen, just a facility where we have the freedom to try different things and make different things,” D’Espocito said. “We have such a wild group of creative people around us that are always looking to do something. It’s always something cool and unique, fun and colorful.”
Coney Waffle’s name comes from D’Especito’s grandmother, Angelina, who opened up her own waffle ice cream shop in the 1940s when it was rare for a woman to have her own store. But her grandson said she was very “before her time,” having been the only school-educated member of her family.
“She was a businesswoman in the ‘40s. When she became of age, she married my grandfather. He had produce markets and all that,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “She said ‘I want to do some of my own things on the boardwalk.’ They lived in Coney Island so it was right for doing that kind of stuff. And she set out on her own and made her way and she did the waffles and ice cream.”
His grandmother’s old store is now an IHOP, but when she eventually sold her shop, she kept a few of her waffle machines, and they were passed down to D’Especito’s father.
“She stopped doing the waffles, and she started doing the souvenir business,” D’Especito said. “She saved a couple of their waffle machines that they were using. When she died, my dad got the waffle machines, and every Father’s Day, he would cook waffles at my brother’s house.”
D’Especito said he would always ask his dad to let him rebuild the waffle machine and update it, but he never would agree to it. “When I was 40, he finally broke down,” he said, adding that his father gave him two months to take one of the machines apart and put it back together again.
The future waffle connoisseur completed the task with enough time to make updates to the family heirloom.
“I gave it back to him in about a month or so, and I made some improvements to his too,” he said.
D’Especito reinvented the machine with the goal of manufacturing it to sell to other ice cream shops, but quickly had a change of heart. That summer, he signed up for a few trade shows and his waffle machines were such a success that he decided to open his first store to keep up with the demand.
“I had about ten of them made, and my intention was to go around to different ice cream stores and sell them the machines, demo it for them and just travel around,” said D’Especito. Instead, he entered it into the Belmar Seafood Festival, and other summer festivals where they saw such a big hit he opened his own parlor – just like his grandma.
From there, he opened up three more locations in New Jersey: his Long Branch and Asbury Park boardwalk locations in 2017, and Red Bank in 2018.
D’Especito said he believes Coney Waffle will be successful in the southern Brooklyn neighborhood because of its foundational ties to it, and the nostalgic feeling that comes with serving his grandmother’s specialty dessert, along with all of the other crazy creations he’s come up with on his journey.
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The shop’s expansion doesn’t end here, D’Especito said.
“We are talking to some people out in Las Vegas, we are actively looking for a spot,” he said. “Another person in Atlantic City is interested, in one of the casinos. As long as it’s still fun, we are going to do it.”
Coney Waffle is now open at 825 Surf Ave., from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week (store closes at 12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays). For more information, visit coneywaffle.com.