Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Lagomarcino’s: a brief history of an Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Confectionery.
Angelo Lagomarcino was born June 21, 1872 in Lagomarsino, a little mountain village in the province of Genoa, northern Italy. He emigrated to America passing through Ellis Island in March 1896. He worked in New York City as a hod carrier for several years. In 1901 he returned to Italy and married Luigia Schenone.
Angelo and Luigia returned to America in 1905 this time going to Burlington, Iowa where Angelo’s brother, Carl, had a store. There Angelo bought a horse and wagon and sold fruit. Later Angelo worked for the Lagomarcino-Grupe company but he soon bought a little store of his own in Burlington, Iowa. In that little store Angelo and Luigia worked very hard to make a living for their family. While in Burlington, Angelo and Luigia had two children, Charlie was born March 27, 1905 and Mary was born August 17, 1907. It was after the birth of Mary that Angelo felt his business could do better in a larger city. So in 1908 he began searching for a new store location. Various locations in Davenport, Iowa were surveyed but Angelo wanted to see more of the area before deciding on a site. Angelo took a street car tour of Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. The street car went along Third avenue in Moline. There Angelo saw all the John Deere factories along the street car route and decided that a busy place like Downtown Moline was the place for his new store.
Lagomarcino’s first Moline store was opened in 1908 at 410 – 15th Street. The store remained at this location for nine years and in 1917 Lagomarcino’s moved to 1420 – 5th Avenue, Moline. Two years later the store moved next door to 1422 – 5th Avenue, Moline and has been there since. A third child, Tom, was born December 7, 1915 in Moline. All three children worked in the store.
Initially, Lagomarcino’s did quite a fruit business. This was before all the stores had much fruit. Angelo was very particular about the fruit he sold at the store. He would visit the fruit warehouse and personally choose the fruit to sell at
Lagomarcino’s. Fruit baskets were always a service of Lagomarcino’s but it was not until the 1930’s that the store began creating and selling baskets that have come to be known as “artistry in fruit.”
In addition to the fruit, the store made ice cream and candy. In the early days ice cream sodas and sundaes were a nickel. A young man could buy a Happy Thought (a half banana split with ice cream and nuts and whipped cream) for himself and his girl friend for ten cents. Lagomarcino’s did not make much chocolate candy at first but sold a lot of fudge, taffies, hard candies such as anise and candy canes and peanut brittles. Lagomarcino’s still makes peanut brittle in the fall from Angelo’s original recipe.
It was sometime in 1912 that Angelo purchased a secret hot fudge recipe for $25 from a traveling salesman. Luigia, it is said, scolded him for spending so much money on a recipe. But Angelo knew the recipe was just the thing to top off the ice cream sundaes. The secret hot fudge recipe is a hallmark of Lagomarcino’s and is still made in small batches in our copper candy kettles.
The Lagomarcino family lived above the store at 1422 – 5th Avenue for many years. During the Depression the store would be open almost 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The store catered to the theater crowd in Downtown Moline. At one time there were seven theaters within a few blocks of the store. Whenever things got busy in the store and additional help was needed, Angelo would bang on the heating pipes to call down one or all of his children.
Charlie and his cousin Joe Schenone were the candy makers of the family. In the 1930’s Charlie purchased the recipes and equipment of the Meadowbrook Candy Company and brought them to Lagomarcino’s. While the equipment has long since been replaced many of the recipes are still used in Lagomarcino’s copper kettle kitchen. Homemade candy is an integral part of the family business. Anita Schenone, Joe’s widow, was the candy maker who oversaw the making of chocolates until 2004. Now Beth’s husband Terry and Tom Jr. continue the tradition. At Easter, Lagomarcino’s continues the old European art of casting chocolate Easter eggs filled with individually wrapped chocolates or children’s candies.
Mary was the public face of the store. The customers would be greeted and helped by Mary. She packed all the candy for sale, ordered retail merchandise and cooked for the luncheonette. Today you are likely to be greeted by one of Angelo’s grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Tom was the ice cream maker. He would make gallons of ice cream every day for the high school students who used Lagomarcino’s as a hang-out, for the theater crowd and for local hospitals. Tom would deliver the ice cream to the hospital on the streetcars. Lagomarcino’s still makes it’s own ice cream for all the special sundaes and sodas.
After the death of his brother and sister, Angelo’s son Tom and his wife Betsy continued the landmark Downtown Moline business. Their six children have all worked in the store. In 1981, Beth Lagomarcino joined her parents in the family business and was later joined by her brother Tom Jr. and sister Lisa. Currently a fourth generation of Lagomarcino children are working in the business.
Many decades after Angelo Lagomarcino’s initial venture, the business continues to improve and expand. The décor of the Moline store was carefully planned in 1918. The mahogany booths were custom-built by Moline Furniture Works. The Tiffany-style lamps lighting each booth were designed in New York. Cassini Tile of Rock Island installed the hexagon terrazzo floor with blue flowers to compliment the lamps. When the building was built in 1894 the metal ceiling was installed. The original candy cases are still in use. The quiet nostalgia of the surroundings greet you today. In 1997 a new Lagomarcino’s opened in the Village of East Davenport.
Lagomarcino’s is a place steeped in family tradition and sometimes, during the busy lunch hour, as you are sitting in one of the gorgeous, handcrafted mahogany booths, you will start to feel a certain calmness, a satisfying wistfulness; and you will begin to notice pleasant memories drifting quietly past your table, sweet memories smelling faintly of chocolate.