KIRKLAND — From ice cream cones to burgers and hotdogs, hungry customers have been keeping the summer hopping over at Bonomo’s Dari Creme and Mini Golfland at 7589 Route 5.
In business since 1963, area customers will find brothers Vinnie and Guy Bonomo, and Vinnie’s son, Nick, along with their long-time and loyal staff, busy at the grill and fryers, making homemade Italian ice or taking orders for their ice cream pies that keep growing in popularity.
Fifty-six years ago, Guy Bonomo and his wife Frances started the business with a simple menu of hot dogs and ice cream. At the time, the family business was called Dari Isle, however, in 1983, the name Dari Isle was replaced with Bonomo’s Dari Creme, which continues today.
Guy Bonomo has worked full-time at the business since the mid 1970s, and brother Vinnie joined the crew back in 1991. His son, Nick Bonomo, most recently grew tired of working in the corporate world and decided to come join the shop with his dad and uncle.
Open until “sometime in September, depending on the weather,” Guy said the family has been busy not only keeping up with customers’ demands at the windows, but also with custom orders for ice cream pies and gallons of frozen treats by special request for birthdays, weddings and other special occasions. While it’s difficult to keep up with the influx of Facebook and Instagram social media posts and emails, the Bonomos ask that to ensure an order gets placed, to call the business at 315-853-2116.
“Some days it seems like the phone has been ringing off the wall,” Guy laughed. Nick has been monitoring the family business’ popularity, as well as orders, on a regular basis, and as often as he’s able to with the grab of his smartphone. At least every couple days, Nick said Bonomo’s is offering a new homemade hard ice cream flavor or Italian Ice, and will post an announcement on Facebook.
“We thought we broke a personal record when we announced that we were the winners of the 2019 Best of the Best (Observer-Dispatch) contest for ice cream for our second year in a row,” with about 3,600 “likes,” but when Bonomo’s posted about this week’s peanut butter/banana twist, “we got 6,970 hits. On Facebook, we get a pretty good following,” Nick said.
As for Bonomo’s retail business — having its frozen goodies featured at local grocery stores — “That’s been expanding a lot too,” Vinnie said. “Our Italian Ice is a good seller.”
Guy is usually the master behind Bonomo’s Italian Ice and was found whipping up a refreshing batch of mango one late morning at the shop recently. Its creamy goodness comes in additional flavors like the traditional lemon and cherry, as well as grape, strawberry daiquiri, blue raspberry, watermelon, pear and sour apple, although no dairy is involved in the secret family recipe.
Guy said each batch is made fresh per order and only “real sugar” is used.
“It’s a fresh, clean and crisp-tasting dessert, that’s dairy, soy, nut-free and gluten free,” he said.
If ice cream is your preferred summer treat, the Bonomos feature a variety of homemade specialty hard flavors like Kanoli Krunch, sherbet with Gertrude Hawk raspberry chocolate chips, Cake Batter, Brownie Batter and Chocolate/Peanut Butter. Between their hard ice cream and Italian Ice, the Bonomos offer about 20 homemade varieties — made right on premises, Guy said.
There’s also vanilla and chocolate soft ice cream, as well as a variety of slushes, Glaciers, Flurries, milkshakes, malts, fat free and sugar free frozen yogurt and sundaes that include the parfait, waffle and strawberry shortcake.
And with all of those choices at Bonomo’s, what is the most popular top seller among customers?
“Vanilla — just plain vanilla,” Vinnie answered with a smile.
For those looking to dine at Bonomo’s for lunch or dinner — with dessert to follow — there’s also specialty burgers like Vinnie’s Boom Boom Burger and Nick’s Bourbon Bacon Burger, in addition to Buffalo Chicken, Hot Ham and Haddock fish sandwiches, toasted cheese sandwiches and hotdogs with sour kraut and the works. There’s also the Chipotle Black Bean Burger for vegetarians, as well as pork, ham and low-fat turkey barbecue sandwiches. And to compliment each plate, there’s a variety of sides and appetizers to choose from like traditional and waffle fries, mozzarella sticks, sweet potato fries, garlic fries and onion rings.
What customers may not know, is that Nick and dad Vinnie have a little friendly competition going to see whose burger is going to be the most popular this summer. Vinnie’s Boom Boom Burger has been a fixture at Bonomo’s for several years now, while Nick’s Bourbon Bacon is fairly new to the menu and is becoming a big hit. Nick gloated as he showed off their “scores” he scribbled on a yellow Post-It note.
“Thirteen weeks he’s won and I have (most popular burger) six weeks, and then we tied one week,” Vinnie sighed. “It’s funny, the girls will take an order up front and yell, ‘We’ve got a Nick’ or ‘Here’s one for Vinnie!,’ and we’ll actually make our own burger, to order. Sometimes we’ll get out there and even banter for our burger.”
Soon the Bonomos said they will see the smiling faces of Hamilton College students when they return to campus for the school year, as they try their luck in a game of mini golf among friends. It’s been a busy summer, but at times business has been “hit-or-miss” depending on the sweltering temperatures. Bonomo’s Dari Creme and Mini Golfland opens daily at 11 a.m.
“Some of the afternoons that it’s reached 85 or 90 degrees we haven’t seen a lot of customers because it’s too hot — they’re busy cooling off in their pools or they’re at the beach,” Vinnie said. “In the evening is when it’s really packed and we have a much smaller window of time to cater to our customers.”
As for looking forward to the start of the fall semester, “Soon we’ll see the Hamilton kids. They like coming here to play mini golf, and they’ve been known to make some friendly wagers on the games,” Vinnie laughed. “We’ve done some work to our greens, and we just ordered a new carpet for one that will be installed this week.”
Another thing that’s been flying out of the freezer at Bonomo’s is their ice cream pies. They start with a graham cracker or cookie crust, then usually goes a layer of hot fudge, and then that is topped with homemade ice cream and candy pieces. There’s Oreo, Snickers, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cup, Heath Bar and Butterfinger.
“We try to keep some in the small freezer up front for customers to grab on demand,” Vinnie said. “But we also take a lot of calls from customers ordering pies too. For custom orders, we ask that they call in advance.”
Vinnie said Bonomo’s will also make ice cream cakes, but customers should notify them of an order by phone “no less than” 24 hours in advance.
“Those take a while to make, and they need time to freeze after we make them,” he said.
While Bonomo’s may be family-run, they’re not the only family to have made the eatery their second home. One of their employees, “Terry,” has been with the business for about 30 seasons, while her daughter has worked there for eight, and a sister has also served as an employee.
“We’ve had three sets of twins work here, and two girls went on to have triplets,” Vinnie said.
“See, there must be something in the ice cream,” Guy laughed.
And while Bonomo’s Dari Creme and Mini Golfland may be a seasonal business, the Bonomos don’t want customers to forget that they’ll once again be selling gift cards on weekends from Black Friday through Christmas Day. Customers can also continue to order their custom order gallons of hard ice cream and Italian Ice.
“We just had a wedding where they ordered two tubs of Italian Ice, and the guy told us, ‘I just want enough left over so my (immediate) family can have some that night,’ but they barely had any left,” Vinnie beamed.
And to know that the Bonomos have the notoriety of making a popular and tasty product, “That’s great to hear,” he said.