Peter Benfaremo, purveyor of Italian ices since 1944 at 108th Street and 52nd Avenue in Corona, talked with WNYC's Brian Lehrer on Monday. Here's what they said:
Lehrer: So there's the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but did you know that you could get into a hall of fame just for being a quintessential New Yorker? City Lore, the organization that celebrates New York's grass-roots cultural heritage, has a People's Hall of Fame, and Thursday night they're inducting their 10th crop of extraordinary, ordinary New Yorkers - people who don't make the papers (or the radio shows) every day, but who have made New York City the city it is. Now this week we will be chatting with each of the five inductees for a few minutes, and first up is Pete Benfaremo, the Lemon Ice King of Corona, Queens. Welcome to WNYC, Pete - or should I say Your Majesty?
Benfaremo: Thank you, thank you so much. [inaudible]
Lehrer: You're at your shop in Queens right now.
Lehrer: Where exactly is it?
Benfaremo: It's at 52-02 108th Street, Corona.
Lehrer: Is lemon your signature flavor?
Benfaremo: Most likely. I started with lemon, I guess. Lemon and pineapple.
Lehrer: And I understand you have strong feelings about mixing of flavors.
Benfaremo: Oh, no. No, we don't mix it.
Lehrer: You don't do that.
Benfaremo: No, I don't.
Lehrer: Why is that?
Benfaremo: Well, the way we dispense it is a little different. We don't use a scooper. We use a special shovel. So you can't mix; you can't go from one flavor to another.
Lehrer: How about rainbow ice?
Benfaremo: Well, rainbow is made that way. It comes that way. We don't mix it. It's already mixed.
Lehrer: I hear that you've noticed, in such a diverse area as Corona, that different ethnic groups have different flavor preferences. Is that correct?
Benfaremo: Well, we used to have a Jewish, Italian, German, Irish, you know, population.
Lehrer: And who likes what?
Benfaremo: Well, they like the lemon, the basic flavors, the citric flavors - lemon, pineapple, orange. But now we have more Spanish and Chinese, and it's a little more diversified. We go into pina colada, mango, and all those tropical flavors. So we have those, too. We try to satisfy both.
Lehrer: So spring has sprung; we're hitting 50 in the city now. How warm does it have to be before people start coming out for the ice?
Benfaremo: It doesn't matter. They come over here even with the snow on the ground.
Benfaremo: Oh, sure. Some people enjoy it all year round, you know. Sometimes I look at them - they're trying to climb the mountain of snow for a cup of ice - and I say that's ridiculous. But what am I gonna do? I'm gonna give it to them.
Lehrer: What's your secret to longevity, in business and in life?
Benfaremo: [laughs] Don't worry about anything. 'Cause God has got your plan for you. You come in at a certain time, and you go out at a certain time. So it doesn't matter what happens in between.
Lehrer: You're on 108th Street, you're only about 10 blocks from Shea Stadium.
Benfaremo: Yeah, right, yeah.
Lehrer: Who's your most famous visitor ever?
Benfaremo: Oh, I don't know, I've had Michael Dukakis, when he was running for president.
Lehrer: You've gotta do better than that.
Benfaremo: Oh, gee, gosh. [laughs] I had Mario Cuomo, I've had Mayor Bloomberg - he was here giving out the ice one day.
Lehrer: Mets ballplayers?
Benfaremo: Well, the whole Met entourage comes here.
Lehrer: There you go. What did Jose Reyes order, do you know?
Benfaremo: I really don't know.
Lehrer: All right - Pete Benfaremo, the Lemon Ice King of Corona, entering the People's Hall of Fame, run by City Lore. Thanks a lot.
Benfaremo: Thank you so much.
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