Lakewood Creamery opens as tribute to the past and scoop into future
Pittsfield — After working for four decades at her mother and father's East Side Cafe, Ann Capitanio has grown accustomed to the bellowing heat from its famous coal-fired pizzas and service late into the night. Yet, one question from diners has tugged at her mind all these years.
"My customers were asking, 'Do you have any desserts or anything?' And then after the [Lakewood] Park was built and Gina's hair salon left the space, I always thought of maybe opening an ice cream shop," she said.
Last week, Lakewood Creamery, a family owned ice cream parlor started by Capitanio, her boyfriend Tom Bruno, daughter Amy Koenig and son-in-law Tim Koenig opened just one door down the street from East Side Cafe. For Ann and Amy, this mother and daughter business venture is a tribute to family and a nod to a childhood sweet tooth.
At first glance, the building that formerly housed a hair salon is remodeled to look like any retro ice cream stand, complete with tubs of toppings, pastel colors and a chalkboard menu listing their soft and hard ice cream flavors. So one can't help but wonder why a weathered 12-foot long work bench occupies the center of the shop.
"I asked my dad [Mario Capitanio] for this place and he said, 'Yeah, honey, do whatever you want — go for it. I like that idea.' But then he got sick. You know, he's been dead since 2011. It was five years of mourning for him. Sounds crazy, but it was," she said.
It wasn't until her boyfriend began fixing up the rundown space, vacated 10 years ago, that Ann rekindled her dream to open an ice cream shop. The workbench her father made, while maybe aesthetically inconsistent, is emotionally resonant.
"This is my identity because this is my dad's property, you know?" she said. "My father was a carpenter for 40 years making cabinets. He [made and] worked on this workbench, he [once] owned a [Tastee Freez], and now I'm doing ice cream."
From there, Ann decided to bring in Amy to help run the operations and acknowledge her childhood dream of one day opening a candy store.
Lakewood holds a special place in the Capitanio's hearts. Ann's uncle, Gabe Virgilio, opened East Side Cafe in the early '50s, and the restaurant quickly became known for two things in the Pittsfield community: the go-to pizza spot, as well as a place for workers to cash their payroll checks. Both Ann and Amy grew up on the corner of Newell and Lombard streets where East Side, as Amy notes, has been "pretty much a staple in town."
Ann worked there as a waitress her entire life and even Amy, after coming home from elementary school, would help fold pizza boxes.
"I used to work for my uncle as a teenager, so when my mother and father bought East Side in 1980, I just walked right in — I stayed there," Ann said.
The Capitanio presence in Lakewood doesn't stop there. Over six generations, a bevy of family owned shops have existed within just a short radius of Lakewood Creamery.
"We run the East Side, my grandfather used to run [Mario's Cabinet Shop], and my mom's great grandfather ran a blacktop company. And this store used to be [my aunt] Gina's Beauty Studio," Amy said. Even the original structure of Lakewood Creamery has family ties — built by her great-great grandfather Benjamin Virgilio and serving as a neighborhood grocery store in the '40s.
Ann and Amy hope to increase their selection of ice cream toppings in the future, but for now, they stick with the basic soft serve, hard serve, milk shake and banana split. Staying local, their ice cream is sourced from High Lawn Farm in Lee, whose milk Ann fondly remembers drinking as a kid.
Like at East Side Cafe, Ann doesn't have monetary expectations as much as familial aspirations for Lakewood Creamery. "I want this to go to my grandchildren," she said.
"Years go by fast and before you know it [my kids] will be working here," Amy said. "They're young now, but they are really excited about it and our hope is once they become teenagers, they'll work along with us."
Ann mixed a milkshake on her father's workbench, thinking back to the six generations of Capitanio businessmen and women in Lakewood. She smiled.
"I think if he walked in the door and I said 'Dad, look,' he would be emotional," she said. "He would be proud."
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