With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s time to reminisce about your first date, make new memories, or spend quality time with family and friends at Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills.
This mom-and-pop ice cream parlor offers 1920s ambiance and genuine uniqueness for generations of taste buds. Located at 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, it is one of only few countrywide that are family owned and remain in continuous operation in a virtually unaltered, ornate state.
Show gratitude for this cornerstone’s survival, since most classic parlors have vanished, analogous to the passing of decades.
Some of our country’s most skillful architects and craftsman designed ice cream parlors with soda fountains, intricate wooden built-ins, marble and wood counters, mosaic floors, tin ceilings, leaded glass, nickelodeons, and chandeliers to convey ambiance and contribute to a glorious experience over ice cream.
Eddie’s is a family-oriented place complete with interpersonal cues, where the owners and patrons develop bonds.
In an age of commercial chains, some classic establishments feel they cannot compete. They are in jeopardy if sold to an owner who is not creative enough to maintain the operation, lacks interest, or if the land exceeds its value in a landlord or developer’s eyes.
For example, 2008 marked the loss of Richmond Hill’s Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor and its signature dish, the Kitchen Sink, only to be replaced with a bar. Queens’ first Howard Johnson’s was erected during the 1939 World’s Fair in Rego Park, only to be imploded in the early 1970s for a mundane black glass office tower.
On July 20, 1979, a time when classic ice cream parlors were already an endangered species, Ann Barry of the NY Times wrote “Where To Find The Best Ice Cream Treats in Town.” She judged on the basis of ambiance and the quality of ingredients, and artist Randy Jones sketched “The Great Ice Cream Safari” comic strip.
It featured an elephant hopping into classic and more modern parlors. The elephant saved Eddie’s Sweet Shop for last, where a patron sitting on a swivel stool said, “this antique parlor would make a fine trophy in the Smithsonian!”
According to city records, 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue had a “new building” application filed on June 24, 1925, for a two-story brick building. Seelig & Finkelstein drafted blueprints. Rumor has it that an ice cream bakery with a lunch counter existed at the site.
Around 1949, the spot was named Witt’s Ice Cream Parlor after owner William Witt. Ads for the shop read “Our Own Make,” referring to ice cream and candy. Patrons could call BO 8-9794 for more info.
When Witt retired in 1967, he sold the shop to the Citrano family, who renamed it Eddie’s Sweet Shop in 1968. Father Giuseppe (Joe) and son Vito Citrano of Forest Hills coined the slogans, “Take your children to the place your grandparents had ice cream” and “A Forest Hills tradition for four generations.”
At the time of the purchase, Vito was only one year old. He began helping out during his childhood, but did not get paid until age 12. Three generations worked alongside one another until Vito’s grandpa, also named Vito, passed away in September of 1995.
The landmark Metropolitan Avenue corner features vintage signs reading “Eddie’s Sweet Shop” and “Ice Cream” with Coca-Cola insignias. The uppermost window panes feature leaded glass reading "Candy" and "Ice Cream." Leaded glass interior panes depict a sunburst motif with tulips.
The interior evokes the turn of the 19th century, which is dominated by a honeycomb-patterned inlaid mosaic floor and a stamped tin ceiling with rose-accented molding. Patrons come upon an elegantly paned mahogany and marble counter with cast-iron swivel stools, where they sit elbow-to-elbow facing friendly soda jerkers.
The timeless backdrop of an ornate wooden built-in features two arched inlaid mirrors and three varied arched pediments enhanced by floral gold leaf designs with a hint of red and green.
An antique register was manufactured by The National Cash Register Co. of Dayton, Ohio. Also of great significance is one of the first electric Frigidaire freezers.
Authentic tapestry-appointed woodwork and candlestick fixtures surround the back seating area. The woodwork is crowned by a wall clock produced by the pioneer Seth Thomas Clock Company, which also manufactured the Grand Central Station clock. Another treat is a classic wood phone booth.
Around 20 homemade flavors are prepared in the shop’s basement kitchen, which are served in pedestal ice cream dishes with fresh whipped cream. Original flavors include rum raisin, butter pecan, and tutti fruiti.
Seasonal flavors were added in recent years, such as peach, blueberry, and coconut, which is now year-round. Pumpkin ice cream pie was available on Thanksgiving. Some Valentine’s Day specialties will be posted on their Facebook page.
Two Art Deco “sundaes” signs advertise chocolate sprinkle, marshmallow, hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, pineapple temptation, walnut, banana split, and banana royal.
Considering the rise of large corporations, Vito explained, “We originally acquired our ingredients from mom-and-pop shops, but now I am looking on the Internet for the best products available today.”
Vito explained a typical day.
“I make my own ice cream, toppings and syrups, hand-whip our cream, enjoy conversations with friendly customers, and put smiles on their faces,” he said. “We prepare everything all day long, but actually do more at night, and sometimes finish work at 2 or 3 a.m.
“My father showed me not to be afraid to work hard,” he added. “When it’s time to make hot fudge, I will keep stirring until it’s right, no matter how late it is or how tired I am.”
Eddie’s Sweet Shop has a cinematic chapter, with scenes from Brighton Beach Memoirs, as well as Remember Me. Some televised commercials for Hostess, Coke, Pepsi, and Louis Sherry Ice Cream were also filmed there.
Eddie’s walls hold the history of many memorable first dates and marriage proposals.
“We had customers return and pose for photos after their wedding in their wedding attire,” Vito said, taking pride in his loyal customer base. “Over the years, grandparents brought their grandchildren, and now they are bringing their children.”
That is the case for 60-year patron Carol Stavola of Middle Village.
“My parents would bring me every Saturday to the nearby Inwood Theatre [the Cinemart], and then we would come here for hot fudge sundaes,” she said. “I remember William Witt coming upstairs with a big barrel of whipped cream. When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, we watched it here.
“Now I have four sons and seven grandchildren, and we all enjoy Eddie’s,” Stavola added.
At the counter, Jordan Woods of Middle Village enjoyed a root beer float with vanilla ice cream with his five-year-old son, Cliff.
“It is not out of a bottle,” he said. “I didn’t know places like this still existed, until my wife, who grew up in Rego Park, brought me here seven years ago on a date.”
Serving generations in a classic Forest Hills parlor is a labor of love. The Citrano's restored the pressed tin ceiling, and are now in the process of restoring the leaded glass windows.
“As long as our customers keep staying as wonderful as they are, we will be open for a very long time,” said Vito.