Medha Imam: From Sicily
to the streets of Queens, Italian ice has been a staple for cooling off during the summer heat for centuries. And one shop credited with bringing this frozen,
fruity treat to New York is the Lemon Ice King of Corona. Sandy Ronquillo: Lemon
Ice King has been a staple of this neighborhood for so long. Jimmy: I think the Lemon Ice
King here in Corona is Corona. Janette Leoni: Creamy.
It’s got a lot of flavor. It is delicious. Merry Morrow: It is so good. You have to come to Corona and get some. Medha: But what is it that
makes the Lemon Ice King so legendary? We headed out to Corona, Queens, to speak with the current owners about the history of the
crowd-favorite institution and learn how the shop
has survived for 75 years selling its beloved Italian ice. The Lemon Ice King of Corona began in 1944 when Nicola Benfaremo began
churning and selling ice out of his garage in a
largely Italian neighborhood. Nicola’s son, Peter,
partnered up with his father to open up a storefront in 1964, just in time for the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which attracted more
than 51 million people around the globe. Newsreel: Everyone is coming
to the New York World’s Fair. Vinny Barbaccia: The real
Lemon Ice King started here through Peter Benfaremo. Even though we gotta acknowledge
his father, obviously. Mike Zampino: Yeah, he
took it to the next level. Medha: That’s Mike Zampino
and Vinny Barbaccia, the current owners of
the Queens institution. Mike: Pete to me was
like my second father. Probably one of my best friends as well. Medha: An immigrant from Italy, Nicola made his ice the traditional way, using natural ingredients
and actual pieces of fruit, like in Sicilian granita, a semi-frozen dessert with
a sugar and water base. But what made the Benfaremo ice stand out was its creamy texture, which was unlike the
coarse and crystalline versions of early Italian ice and which they achieved
without using any dairy. Vinny: No dairy at all
in any of the flavors. You assume, like, yeah, it’s a cream ice. You know, it’s got milk in
it. It’s got dairy in it. No dairy in any. It’s just our recipes that make the product
turn out the way it does. Jimmy: Can’t say nothing but the best. Always been eating it, and, as
you can see, still eating it. Mike: We get a lot of input
from, like, the neighborhood. Where it used to more like
pistachio, lemon, orange, that’s more traditional Italian flavor, and that was what the neighborhood was. Now, as the neighborhood changes, we see we’re selling more mango, piña colada, more of the tropical fruits. Janette: I’m here all the
way from Ohio to taste this. Merry: This is great. Medha: Overwhelmed by the praise, I couldn’t wait to get my share of the iconic Benfaramo Italian ice. Out of their 36 flavors, I decided to try their cult
classic, peanut butter, which contains chunks
of peanuts throughout. But first, their most popular flavor, the namesake lemon ice. Mike: Lemon Ice King.
Vinny: Lemons. Lemon is lemon. Medha: It comes in the form of a rose. All right, so here I go. This is truly amazing. On a humid day like
this, in New York City, this is exactly what I
wanted to taste right now. This tastes like fresh lemons, but also it’s sweet, too. So, if you’re a sweet tooth, like me, you would love this. But if you’re having Italian
ice for the first time, you are gonna feel, like, kind of, like, prickles on your tongue? But they’re refreshing prickles because it’s just, like,
the coldness of the ice that’s really, ah, so refreshing. Do you guys want to try some? You’re gonna have to
come to Lemon Ice King. This is Lemon Ice King
of Corona’s newer flavor. It is the peanut-butter ice. It’s become a hit amongst the community and a lot of people around New York. So, I’m really excited to try this out. This is the one that I saw on social media that people are raving about. So here we go. Oh, my God! I really cannot believe
that dairy is not in this because this tastes so smooth and just like any peanut-butter ice cream that I’ve had in the past. Vinny: Oh, yeah. Whatever
flavor that you’re aiming at, you’re gonna find that
it’s the best you’ve had. Medha: The 75-year-old recipe and larger window operation remain loyal to its
owner and neighborhood, as Vinny and Mike continue to hire local kids to scoop out Italian ice. Vinny: We’re part of the neighborhood. We grew up here, we
grew up with the store, people that come up here, and now, I grew up with these kids, now they’re coming up with their kids. And it’s like, you realize how
old you’re getting, you know? But again, you realize the
strength of the institution, if you will, right? That we’re still here, still going strong, and hopefully we’re here
for another 100 years. Medha: Red rose. Here I go. (man laughs) You wanna try it out together? Man: Yeah, yeah. Medha: OK, here I go.