Sundae House almost didn’t, but it reopened

The Sundae House, a Milford institution since it opened 55 years ago, almost came to an end this year, following the death of the proprietor James (Jimmy) Simone in January.

Jimmy had poured his life into this New Haven Avenue ice cream stand, often working 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, serving up ice cream to several generations of Milford residents.

When he died at age 74, his family initially thought it was going to be the end of the Sundae House.

But not so. It opened today, Friday, keeping to its annual tradition of opening at the start of spring.

“We weren’t going to open,” said Jimmy’s son, John Simone, who was there today with his daughters, Nicolette, 18 and Alexandra, 21, both college students.

John has a full-time job selling pharmaceuticals, something he couldn’t give up, and the ice cream stand is a demanding job. Too much for him, and too much for his mother. So when his father died, it looked like the stand would close.

But then, emails and calls and Facebook messages started to roll in. Message after message said, “You have to open,” the family said.

“My phone was blowing up,” said John Simone. “People said ‘You have to open up, you’re an institution’.”

People said that they had enjoyed the Sundae House themselves, and then with their children and grandchildren. They didn’t want to lose it.

And all those messages forced a family meeting.

“I said to my mom, ‘What would dad want us to do?’” John said.

His mother, Sandra Feulner Simone, said dad would want them to keep the Sundae House going.

So they set to work and after a crazy, hectic six weeks, they opened a Sundae House that offers up the same ice cream delicacies that residents have come to love over the years.

“This place means a lot to us,” said Nicolette, who has been working at the ice cream stand since she was 10 years old. After doing odd jobs in the shop, she finally got old enough to make it onto the payroll, she said with a laugh.

And so this was too much like home for her and her sister to say ‘no’ when their father asked if they were in on keeping the place open.

John still has his full-time job, but between himself, his mother, his two daughters and fiancé Samantha Cordone — a nurse at Jonathan Law High School — they decided it was possible to keep the Sundae House going.

According to John, it was his grandmother, Angelina Simone, who opened the ice cream shop in 1963. At first, the building was a fruit and vegetable stand, and Angelina was working at it one day when representatives from a national ice cream company pulled up and talked to her about selling them the place to turn into an ice cream parlor. They had statistics and figures about ice cream demand and projected sales, which Angelina asked if she could take a look at.

A student then at Larson College, a private women's college that eventually became part of Quinnipiac College, Angelina was brilliant, John said. She looked at those numbers and figures, and she shut her fruit and vegetable stand and opened her own ice cream parlor.

“She was brilliant, but tough,” John said. He pointed to a shiny old scale in the back of the ice cream shop and said, “She’d make me weigh every cone, and if it was more than four ounces, she’d make me put it into a bucket.”

There was no room back then for over-serving — every penny, and ounce of ice cream, counted.

Sundae House passed on to her son, Jimmy, and he loved it.

“This was his entire world,” said Nicolette.

Of course family and community were paramount too. Jimmy was also a member of the Elks, and there was nothing he valued more than his family, according to an obituary notice. “His motto was always, ‘family comes first’,” the notice reads.

And so opening day today has been bittersweet. The Simones are happy and tired, and thrilled that customers started to roll up just after they opened at noon.

“It’s surreal in a way. It’s weird not having him in the back,” said Alex. Working here was always their time with Grandpa.

But Jimmy Simone’s photo is proudly framed and secured to the front window, and so in a way the Sundae House is still the way it has been all these years.