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Glen Oaks Ice Box cools off customers

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Nestled on an island between Union Turnpike and 77th Avenue just off 264th Street in Glen Oaks is a small oasis of summer fun and tradition - the Ice Box, also known as Ralph's Famous Italian Ices, which is on its way to becoming a local institution.

Each day the constant line in front of the store with the blue awning, owned by Kim Verdino and managed by her father Joe Montemarano and sister Kim Montemarano, slowly builds, and on warm summer evenings there are two lines, one extending to the bus stop about 20 feet from the store and the other curving around the building.

"The ices are better than the Corona Ice King," said Shelly Simon of Glen Oaks, who on Saturday was standing in line with his son Jesse. "They give you two flavors, and Corona only gives you one flavor. Here they give you napkins, Corona doesn't."

Montemarano said his daughter started in the lemon ice business three years ago with her first store in Valley Stream, L.I. and opened the Glen Oaks store last summer. He said they got into the business when Verdino called him and asked what he thought about selling Italian ices.

Montemarano was not sure how to react or answer her question. She told him to pass by the Valley Stream location and let her know what he thought.

"It was in February, at night and there was not a person in the street," he said. "We opened in May and within a couple of days it boomed."

She found the Glen Oaks site the same way, he said - she was driving by and fell in love with the place.

He said she walked into the Hut, a restaurant attached to the building - and a Glen Oaks institution since 1952 - and asked owner Jack Murphy if he wanted to rent the empty store, which had been a rose shop. He told her he wanted to sell the entire building, including the Hut.

"I'll buy it," she told him, Montemarano said. She did not even ask the price.

Verdino and her family are now gutting and renovating the Hut and hope to be open by Aug. 15. At the restaurant - which will retain its well-known name - they plan to sell gourmet soup, hamburgers, hot dogs and a variety of other grilled foods.

"It is a gold mine," Montemarano said. "It does very well. We have deliveries every day."

The Ice Box features some 85 flavors of water and cream ices, ranging from lemon to cherry Coke to bubble gum to chocolate. He said the ices come from Ralph's Homemade Ices on Staten Island, which has been making Italian ices since 1928.

Montemarano said Ralph's differs from the Corona Ice King because it serves water and cream ices while the famed Corona business only dishes up water ices.

"The cream ice is made with a skim milk base and the water ice has a water base," he said. "All of the ices are made with fresh fruits and all natural ingredients, so cannoli tastes like cannoli, cotton candy tastes exactly like cotton candy and chocolate Reese's has bits of Reese's Pieces in it."

For those who cannot have or don't want sugar, they also sell sugar-free ices made with Nutrasweet. Each scoop of the cream ice has 48 calories and is 2 percent fat, and the water ice has 40 calories per scoop and no fat.

"I come every other day," said Jeanne Angel of Bayside, whose favorite flavor is black raspberry. "I am addicted to this stuff. It is really good."

Frank Barry of Glen Oaks, waiting in line with his family, said they stop by once or twice a week during the summer.

"We really like the ices, especially chocolate," said his daughter Jessica, 11.

"I like lemon," said her brother Kevin, 9.

The store is open noon to midnight seven days a week. The prices range from small (two scoops) for $1.25; medium (three scoops) for $1.75; large (four scoops) for $2.25; a pint for $3.50 and a quart for $6.50.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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