Local landmarks: Tony’s Ice Cream

Cuisine People

June 30, 2024

Two large milkshakes at Tony's Ice Cream

This old-fashioned ice cream shop is a local tradition for many — and the ice cream is still made like it was more than 100 years ago.

by Whitley Adkins  |  photographs by Richard Israel 

Tony’s Ice Cream has been a mainstay in downtown Gastonia for generations. Established in 1915 by Carmine Coletta, the family-owned business is now run by Carmine’s grandson, Louis Coletta. 

“My granddad started out with a pushcart with wagon wheels on the back,” says Louis Coletta, 86. “Eventually, he had a horse-drawn wagon, and he went to the different mills to sell ice cream. It developed from wagons and then got motorized.”

The scoop shop is named after Coletta’s father, Anthony Coletta, and his uncle, Antonio Janetta. “It’s a big old Italian family,” explains Coletta, who vividly describes helping out with the family business from a very young age.

Owner of Tony's Ice Cream, Louis Coletta
Tony's Ice Cream outdoor sign

“When I was 4 years old, I was on the ice cream truck with my daddy with an apron and a hat and a white shirt on,” he recalls. He continued working for the family business after high school, while he attended Belmont Abbey College. After serving in the Army in the 1960s, he took a short break from the business and worked as an industrial engineer. 

“Then my dad got sick in 1970,” Coletta says. “He had Hodgkin’s disease. He died in 1973, which is when I came back here full time. And I have been back here since then.”

Today, the business employs more than 40 workers, including some who have been there more than 40 years. A wholesale division supplies local stores and restaurants.

“We make the ice cream the same way my granddad made it 100 years ago,” Coletta says. “Chocolate is our signature flavor — we sell three times as much chocolate as any other flavor, and we try to keep around 25 flavors total. Black walnut [is another favorite]. My grandmother used to make black walnut cakes — they were to die for.” Hot dogs, hamburgers, ham sandwiches and BLTs are other crowd pleasers. 

“We get to see a cross-section of folks — from doctors and lawyers to working people,” Coletta says. “Mostly, I enjoy the babies. Every day, after school’s out, we get a building full of kids. I give them all ice cream — the little ones. That’s my joy in life: giving them a cone of ice cream after their dinner. This guy was in here one day from The [Gaston] Gazette, and he was telling me, ‘You can’t make any money doing that.’ The way I look at it, not one of those little people is driving. Somebody brought them down, so we’re going to be OK.”

In a dream world, Coletta says he would love to sell his ice cream at Myrtle Beach. “And Tony’s in Gastonia would stay the same. My dad told me there is a place in this world for things to stay the same. People come back here — they may have been gone for 30 years, but to come back and to have something they remember to still be there, that’s it.”  SP


Ice cream cones are served using a flat, spade dipper. Bottom row: Owner Louis Coletta shares a photo of his fathers vintage ice-cream truck.

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