Rita’s Italian Ice on Surf Avenue across from the Thunderbolt roller coaster has a new owner, Joseph DeAngelis, and a brand-new schedule. It is no longer closed for the Jewish Sabbath – from dusk on Friday until sundown on Saturday– and is now open 7 days a week. That means you can get a frozen custard for the first time on Fireworks Fridays and on Saturday afternoons. Hours are noon to 10:00pm, with later hours during the summer months.
Two years ago, this Rita’s franchise brought back frozen custard, one of Coney Island’s lost delights, to its place of origin. The dessert made its debut in 1919 when the Kohr brothers opened a stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk, selling 18,460 cones for a nickel apiece on the first weekend! Kohr’s Frozen Custard is still in business on the Boardwalks at Seaside Heights and Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore but Kohr’s has shown no interest in making a Coney Island comeback. Businesses in Coney which sell ice cream, gelato or soft serve hadn’t made any move to bring back frozen custard either, despite the recommendations of old-timers.
“Rita’s products are prepared under Star-K Kosher supervision and non-dairy is still pareve,” says DeAngelis, who is one of the franchise’s top operators, with five locations in New York’s Dutchess County. The Coney Island store has a clientele that reaches beyond seasonal visitors to the amusement area. It was a destination for Jewish residents of Brooklyn seeking kosher ices, nevertheless the business was struggling, according to DeAngelis. He was brought in by Rita’s to make a success of the location. Unlike the previous owners, who were observant Jews, DeAngelis is Catholic and does not have to close for Shabbat.
The storefront got a fresh coat of paint and has already opened for the season, but DeAngelis says he’s planning a grand-re-opening celebration. Rita’s offers Italian ice, frozen custard, layered gelati, sundaes with a choice of toppings, sugar-free treats, and trademark items that blend Italian ice with frozen custard. The business is among a growing number of national and international franchises and chains leasing space on high-priced Surf Avenue in the new Coney Island.