MERIDEN — Thirty six years after taking over Les’ Dairy Bar on East Main Street, Deb DiGiandomenico plans to close the city landmark at the end of the summer season.
”At this point, I just had a lot of years,” DiGiandomenico said. “Physically it’s taken its toll...Lifting five gallon pails of peanut butter is getting hard on me.”
DiGiandomenico is hoping to finish the season, which runs through October, but she may close when children and her employees return to school.
Since announcing her retirement on social media recently, DiGiandomenico has been fielding offers for potential buyers. Some are better than others, she said.
“I’m hoping it remains the same,” DiGiandomenico said. “I put a lot of life and love into keeping it. I hate to see it disappear.”
Les’ history as an ice-cream shop goes back more than 60 years. In 1956, Ray Dubuc and Tony Fontanella built and opened a Dari-Delite franchise. They sold it to Les Anderson who changed the name to Les’ Dairy Bar.
In 1976, Rose and Albert DiGiandomenico bought the ice cream shop from Anderson and kept the name because Les’ had a following. The DiGiandomenicos initially bought it for their eldest daughter and her husband, but the couple found the business too demanding for their young family and turned it over to Deb DiGiandomenico.
Les’ has about 12 employees, mostly college students, during most seasons. This year the veteran workers, with about five to seven years of experience, will be leaving at the end of summer to start careers, which means training new staff.
“That’s why this is the year to close,” DiGiandomenico said. “I have the greatest staff. It’s a family business and they are treated like family.”
Jane Dubuc Earnest, whose father built and opened Dari-Delite, said he and Fontanella would have been glad to see the business stay an outdoor ice cream stand as long as it did.
“They would be so proud of her and all she's done as they both loved Meriden,” Dubuc Earnest said. “I would truly hope it stays exactly what it is. If I were younger I would buy it.”
The DiGiandomenicos own the building and the property at 654 E. Main St. The property lends itself to many commercial possibilities, giving DiGiandomenico much to consider.
Customers waiting in line for shakes and soft-serve cones were surprised the ice cream stand was closing and hoped someone else will continue the tradition.
“It’s sad, it’s an icon for the town,” said Gregg Costigan of Meriden. “I’ve been coming here since high school – when the old man Les ran it. I came back from the Philippines with my wife. She’s never had ice cream like this.”