A new ice cream parlor that just opened on the Coney Island Boardwalk could be the first phase of an Italian invasion that would transform the People’s Playground’s honky-tonk waterfront into a haven for espresso-loving brunchers — which is exactly how the guy who controls the area wants it.
An Italian restaurateur opened Coney’s Cones, a gelato cafe, on Saturday, and plans to open three more restaurants that will give the Boardwalk an Italian feel next summer. He is leasing the space from Boardwalk landlord Central Amusement International, the Italian company that runs Luna Park and took control of the strip last year.
“The Boardwalk should be a place where you can sit outside, relax and enjoy a cappuccino,” said co-owner Michele Merlo, who opened the shop with business partner Julio Gonzalez.
The duo plans to open an Italian seafood spot called Da Ponte (“by bridge” in English,) a yet-to-be named beer garden, and an international food court called Mundo (Spanish for “world”).
The Boardwalk makeover was first reported by NY1.
The transformation sets in motion the vision of Central Amusements CEO Valerio Ferrari who told us last year that he would like the Boardwalk to become more like an Italian piazza than a beachfront dive.
“Why can’t you sit down with your newspaper and enjoy a coffee and the great view of the beach?” said Ferrari at the time.
But the news of the incoming Italian invasion is an added blow to the old-school Boardwalk businesses who are being kicked out by Central Amusement this fall to make way for new eateries. Nine mom-and-pops first got the boot last year, but most of them battled their evictions in court and settled with Central Amusement to stay on for a final summer. The agreement stipulates that they cannot protest when their leases end on Oct. 31.
But most still insist that they are getting a raw deal.
“We developed a beer garden, so why are they bringing someone else in who is doing the same thing?” said Carl Muraco, whose Beer Island bar will likely be replaced by Merlo and Gonzalez’s business. “It doesn’t make any sense to be kicking everyone out to bring in the same things.”
Gonzalez and Merlo are the only people so far that Central Amusement has hired to replace the kitschy Boardwalk businesses, which include the 75-year-old Ruby’s Bar, Cha Cha’s and Paul’s Daughter.
The pristine W. 10th Street ice cream shop replaces Pio Pio Riko, the Peruvian-style chicken joint that did not renew its lease with Central Amusement after last season. The new place serves Italian ices, house-made ice cream, espresso-laced concoctions and will soon add a panini menu.
Central Amusement is attempting to complete the city’s Coney Island revitalization. The company opened two new amusement areas, Scream Zone and Luna Park, which feature 23 rides, and plans to renovate the 83-year-old Cyclone roller coaster. The goal is to create a sprawling 24-hour-a-day hub of hotels, restaurants, shopping and indoor attractions that will stretch half-a-mile from the Cyclone near W. Eighth Street to the Cyclones’ MCU Park near W. 19th Street.