On warm summer nights, the violins would play as horse-drawn carriages pulled up to the fashionable ice cream parlors on Palermo’s waterfront. Elegant ladies and gentlemen, many from Sicily’s royal family, would step out and sit down to their favorite dessert of lemon ice, spumoni or cassata. Inside the kitchens, young boys – among them, Angelo Brocato – scurried about, ferrying ice and salt for the busy chefs.
This is the opening paragraph of a 1975 article from the Times-Picayune.
The story of New Orleans’ most famous ice cream began approximately 125 years ago, across an ocean, in Palermo, Sicily, when 12-year old Angelo – whose father was a shoemaker (so many shoemakers) — died when he was three. He began his apprenticeship in the gelato trade to earn money for his family, and as summer became winter, shops transitioned to candy-making and baking, both skills Angelo was able to learn.
A NOLA.com piece tells us that, “starting in 1884 and continuing through to 1924, an estimated 290,000 Italian immigrants – a great deal of them from Sicily – arrived in New Orleans, fleeing economic and political turmoil.” As many wealthy French Quarter residents fled to the suburban feel of Uptown, the new Sicilians took their place, forming what was referred to as “Little Palermo.”
In approximately 1898, at the age of 20, Angelo joined that number. He began by working on a sugar plantation in Donaldsonville, Louisiana until he had saved enough money to bring his wife and son over from Italy. The following year, once his family arrived, they moved to Little Palermo and Angelo opened up a tiny ice cream shop in a converted garage at 511 Ursulines Avenue.