Some things never change.
These days, if you’re looking for a scoop of Carvel’s iconic soft-serve ice cream, your best bet is to head into a crowded shopping mall and keep your eyes peeled for a modest stall amidst the bustling retail hubbub.
The mall will certainly offer air-conditioned relief from the summer swelter, and that ice cream outlet will probably offer the same Carvel treats doled out to eager young tots ever since Tom Carvel’s ice cream truck popped a flat on a fated, Memorial Day weekend in 1934, creating the first immobile Carvel ice cream shop.
But there’s something lacking in those stripped-down, streamlined Carvel kiosks, a subtle absence of a sight once indivisible from New England’s cityscapes of their natural habitat — something which, in the County of Kings, can only be found at the southern end of Coney Island Avenue.
There, nestled between Avenues X and Y in Sheepshead Bay stands a distinctive sloping building with a gleaming steel facade and a pink awning advertising, “Carvel” — a unique design, protected by several design patents covering the “building and the distinctive appurtenances thereto,” which once characterized every Carvel franchise in the country.
“We’re the last old-time Carvel left in Brooklyn,” said Pat Aceto, who took over operations at the family-owned franchise after his father retired. “You can find Carvels all over the city, mostly in shopping malls, but we’re the only one with the old storefront you used to see during the ’50s.”
That cool metal and glass front, with the roof sloping gently down towards the back, a relic — a frozen slice of Americana that’s grown ever more uncommon as Carvel outlets slim down and economize.
But the architecture isn’t the only draw to the Sheepshead Bay ice cream parlor. This franchise has been family owned since it opened nearly six decades ago, and its reigning patriarch is an ice cream man through and through.
“There’s vanilla syrup running through my veins,” said Aceto, before stopping to think. “Actually, it might be chocolate.”
Pat’s father, Stephen, dropped out of college after his own father, Pasquale, lost an eye in a carpentry accident in 1954 and opened the ice cream franchise to support his family. The Aceto clan literally built the business from scratch — Stephen helped with the construction of the iconic ice cream parlor, overseen by the cool, one-eyed gaze of papa Pasquale.
One of Stephen’s first hires was an attractive girl named Ann, and it wasn’t long before the young, raven-haired ice cream scooper became a part of the family.
“She was one of his first employees. They weren’t married when she started, but they fell in love over flying saucers,” Aceto joked.
And Aceto had hardly learned his letters before his father had him cleaning out the freezers at age 8, and by 14 he was working full-time behind the counter.
That family touch can make all the difference, especially when the heat is on.
After Hurricane Sandy, power went out across Brooklyn, and the Aceto Carvel was in danger of becoming a lake of sticky sugar as the freezers died. Fortunately they were able to clean out the shop — with a little help from the neighborhood, of course.
“We were bagging everything up, running up to random cars and giving our ice cream to people,” Aceto explained. “We told them to text their friends to come down and get ice cream. Before you know it, we had a line out the door and the ice cream was gone that day.”
Since his father opened the store 59 years ago, not much has changed. There’s still a sale almost every day, there’s still a smiling Aceto family member behind the counter, and of course, there’s still Cookie Puss and Fudgie the Whale.
Everything is pretty much the way it was when Stephen first opened shop — except the sizes.
“Everything’s gotten bigger!” Ann Aceto exclaimed.
Aceto’s Carvel is handing out free cones on April 25, so its the perfect time to head down and check out the classic scoop of Americana.
Get a free cone at Carvel [2744 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues X and Y in Sheepshead Bay, (718) 934–8173] April 25, 11 am–6 pm.Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cn
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