Some of Chicago’s oldest ice cream spots are more than just nostalgic—they carry Chicago history in their swirls. While beloved spots like Irving Park’s the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor have disappeared over the years, five owners of classic ice cream shops tell us about their decades of delighting the young—and the old—one creamy scoop at a time.
2815 W. Armitage Ave.; Logan Square; Established 1950
As a child, Tony Zarcone used to run down the block clutching a quarter for a soft-serve twist cone at the Freeze (then known as Tastee Freez). When the neighborhood ice cream stand went on the market in 1988, Zarcone knew he had to purchase the iconic spot, despite opposition.
“My dad, rest in peace, used walk over just to sneak in the back to tell me how crazy I was for buying this place while he served himself a crooked chocolate cone,” remembers Zarcone, who keeps prices low for Logan Square families who frequent during the day and adults looking to “cool the pipes” at night. Keeping the Freeze alive is a labor of love: “I always knew I bought the stand to keep families together."
The proof? Hang out with Zarcone, a Chicago firefighter, and you'll see and hear the waves and honks from long-time customers passing by.
Classic menu item: Frozen-dipped banana for $1.50
“We take bananas that are just getting ripe, which makes them great for shakes and dipping, put a stick in them, freeze them, then dip them in chocolate the next day. These have been served since 1950,” says Zarcone.
1960 N. Western Ave.; Bucktown; Established 1921
“We spent our lives in this shop,” recalls 81-year-old Peter George Poulos, the third generation owner of Margie’s Candies, whose cradle was kept next to the candy counter while his parents hustled to sell sweets during the Great Depression.
Life was hard but childhood memories sweet when cones cost a quarter and a hot fudge sundae 35 cents. “You had to make it worth spending the money on ice cream when times were tough,” remembers Poulos.
Everything about the shop is a family memory: the store’s iconic glowing red neon sign still bears his mother’s name to its location on the convergence of Milwaukee, Armitage and Western avenues which Margie sometimes took over. “I’ll always remember mom shutting down Western Avenue to host a giant ice cream party when dad returned home from WWII,” says Poulos.
While patrons are drawn to the shop’s nearly century old booths and long list of patron celebrities like The Beatles, Poulos says they’ve served and the rich and the famous, but they are a Chicago shop for the common man. “It’s always been about serving the public scoops of heaven in a white shell,” he says.
Classic menu item: Hot fudge sundae for $5.80
“Our hot fudge sundae has been served since day one and is based on the chocolate sundae which my grandfather learned to make in Greece,” says Poulos.
Original Rainbow Cone
9233 S. Western Ave.; Beverly; Established 1926
It’s the Beverly tower: five flat, thick slabs of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (walnut and cherry), pistachio, and orange sherbet stacked on a sturdy wafer cone foundation. The Chicago creation came about in 1926 when Lynn Sapp’s grandfather whipped up the inventive cone to convince Depression-era eaters to splurge on ice cream at a time when a dinner plate cost around 10 cents.
“People were worried about spending a dime on a cone, so my grandfather made sure to add fresh fruit and nuts to make it a filling concept, and that’s the real inspiration behind the unique ice cream and sherbet combination,” says 57-year-old Sapp. The original stand was built when Western Avenue was a dirt road, with an apple orchard across the street. Sapp, who grew up in her grandfather’s shop, is now in charge of the 91-year-old family business. “It’s not an easy job to sell ice cream, but we do it and it’s an honor. We are really here to preserve memories,” says Sapp.
Classic menu item: The Rainbow Cone for $4.74
“Customers’ memories are what make this cone a classic. I had a 91-year-old man whose first memory was taking the old streetcar down Western for a Rainbow Cone,” says Sapp.
Homer's Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream
1237 Green Bay Rd., Wilmette; Established 1935
Dean Poulos, 64, says his dad was all about making simple but rich ice cream, high in butterfat, that would please the American palate. “My dad was an immigrant from Greece who didn’t know the language and wanted to find his niche,” recalls Poulos of the super-premium ice cream parlor that just celebrated its 82nd year.
Poulos Sr. opened the spot in 1935, quickly drawing North Shore crowds, including mobster Al Capone, who would send his chauffeur for scoops.
Homer's best flavors feature Midwest fruits, like Prairie Berry, a blend of blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry. For Poulos, flavors hand-crafted by his father such as peach are one small way of carrying on his dad’s legacy.
Classic menu item: A scoop of peach ice cream for $3.47
“[It's] a cult classic, only made in the summer, that tastes like biting into a frozen creamy peach. It’s been on the menu since we opened our doors,” says Poulos.
Petersen's Ice Cream Shop
1100 Chicago Ave., Oak Park; Established 1919
“The best thing is to not change,” says 33-year-old Jason Skiouris of Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop. “There aren’t so many century-old family companies in Illinois and we feel proud to be one of the few.” Skiouris says it’s not unusual for patrons in their 80s or 90s to recount their childhood memories of the spot to him.
The space, with an original tin ceiling down and onyx marble counters, smells of freshly griddled waffle cones. Flavors like (award-winning) vanilla, peach, and chocolate are still made with a 16- to 18-percent butterfat recipe that’s handpacked to make it a little richer, creamier, and denser than your average scoop. “No matter how many new flavors come out, people like that you can taste the flavor and tradition in vanilla,” he says.
Classic menu item: Turtle sundae for $6.55
“The Turtle Sundae has been here since day one. It’s a bone white vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, caramel, pecans in the bottom, two vanilla scoops, then more hot fudge, caramel and pecans, house whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry with a cherry juice stain on top,” says Skiouris.