After a long day at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park or a Mets game, it’s a tradition to stop by the Lemon Ice King of Corona. It has been a staple in the neighborhood for more than seven decades. The Lemon Ice King is in a way a representation of the American Dream: its roots are humble — it got its start in a garage — and later grew into one of NYC’s most iconic dessert joints.
Michael Zampino, the current owner of the Lemon Ice King, talked with Epicenter-NYC about its long history.
“Nikola Benfaremo, he started in the garage next door while his son was fighting in World War II for America. When his son Peter got out of the service, he worked over here as well, and he’s the guy who took it to the next level where we are at now,” he says.
Zampino knows the story well, he’s been a part of the Lemon Ice King for most of his life.
“I was a neighborhood kid that started my first job, then unfortunately, when Peter Benfaremo, his wife got sick, he kind of handpicked me to sell me the store,” he said. “I was working for him for 10 plus years at the time and I’ve been here ever since.
On hot summer days the Lemon Ice King draws crowds from near and far. Customers have 50 flavors to choose from, including peanut butter and fruit cocktail, but the most popular flavor has always been classic lemon. A small is $2, a medium $3 and a large $4 — a steal, all things considered.
Seth Goldman, an NYC taxi driver, has been coming to the Lemon Ice King from Manhattan since the 1970s.
“Whether we live in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens [it’s important] to support a small business, and this is a small business.” he said.
It was loyal customers like Goldman who helped the Lemon Ice King remain standing through the pandemic, despite being located in the city’s Covid-19 epicenter.
“I did close for the first five days. But I say I didn’t close because I was in here cleaning up,” Zampino said. “Even during those days, people were knocking on the window saying, ‘Are you open? Could I get an ice?’ So, it made me open up.”
As the pandemic dies down and the city has been gripped by an exceptionally hot summer, business is better than ever for the Lemon Ice King, and Zampino hopes it will stay that way for a long time.
“We’re still open after 77 years and plan on being open for many, many more years to come.”