Through no other storefront in town can a bystander see more of a crowd during the summer months than at Longford’s.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Through no other storefront in town can a bystander see more of a crowd during the summer months than at Longford’s. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the ever-decadent dip shop at 4 Elm Place with the “own made ice cream” has always served the creamiest, tastiest ice cream around. Whether on a cone, in a cup, sundae, cake, milkshake, take-home container, or Yule log, Longford’s popularity has not melted away with time.
According to Elm Street Sweets, Inc. owner Christine Vita Santorelli, who licenses Longford’s, on any given summer night, 400 scoops of the delicious ice cream are served. In addition, this season, she introduced a new Longford’s truck with her brother Bobby Vita. This nut-free mobile scoop shoppe is available for parties, fairs, concerts, and ballgames.
Christine started working for the original owners and founders of Longford’s, Nolan and Pat West who still manufacture the ice cream, in 1995 when she was a junior at Rye Country Day. Four years later, they offered her what she calls, “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“At 20, I became an entrepreneur and the new owner of the store,” explained Christine, who grew up in Port Chester. “I used my creativity and managerial skills to create a well-known successful business.”
In the meantime, the Wests continued manufacturing their premium ice cream from their 3,500-square-foot kitchen in Port Chester. Having opened the first Longford’s shop there in 1992, the couple’s wholesale business has thrived for two decades. Recently, they were honored with a proclamation from Westchester County for their years of service.
Although they weren’t always in the frozen dessert business, it seems, however, that their journey was sprinkled with signs of things to come. Having grown up in the area, the two had attended St. Mary’s Elementary School in Port Chester.
“She was one year behind me, but I always thought she was cute. Back then you’d ask a girl to go to Nielsen’s for an ice cream sundae, but we never got the chance,” recalled Nolan about the old-fashioned ice cream parlor on Pearl Street in Port Chester.
Years later, while he worked as a corporate executive recruiter in New York City and she worked in merchandising in the garment district, they serendipitously bumped into each other at Grand Central. “I recognized her right away, so I asked her to go to Nielsen’s,” said Nolan wistfully.
When they first got married almost 30 years ago they lived in Purchase Street’s Highland Hall after honeymooning in Ireland. Incidentally, while on the Emerald Isle, they visited Nolan’s family’s dairy farm in none other than County Longford.
Nolan left the corporate world during the 1990s credit crunch in search of a more palatable future. Through a fraternity brother, he was introduced to the world of ice cream manufacturing and wholesaling. After apprenticing for a year and honing his craft, he and Pat opened the store on Midland Avenue, naming it after that auspicious dairy farm. He made the ice cream in the back of the house, while she sold it in the front and delivered it to the various country clubs, caterers, and restaurants in the area.
“We were finding our way and our samples caught on,” noted Pat about their product, now sold throughout Westchester and Fairfield counties.
In 1995, they relocated the retail portion of the business to its current Elm Place location and licensed it to Christine four years later. Their daughter Allison West, runs their other retail operation in Old Greenwich.
The plant on Midland Avenue churns out 250 10-quart tubs a day. Although that sounds like a lot of ice cream, it’s miniscule compared to the output of mega-commercial brands. To ensure premium quality, Longford’s purposely remains a small-batch producer and everything is done by hand, whether it’s breaking the Oreos or variegating the fudge, caramel, and sauces. That goes for their fruity sorbets and authentic European-style gelato, the latter of which is available on the wholesale side only.
“This allows us to tend to every detail and to use fresh, quality, local ingredients, which guarantees the best ice cream around,” remarked Nolan. “Then we blast freeze it at 30 degrees below 0, which is as fast as humanly possible. This method produces a different mouth feel than mass produced ice cream.”
The small batch process is also conducive to the seamless creation of new flavors. Every spring when they come up with innovative flavors, they sample everything themselves. Their blind tasting committee consists of Nolan, Pat, their office manager and goddaughter Christine Mignone, Director of Sales Ralph Pietrafesa, and three ice cream makers. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. (Upon my visit, I sampled a silky hazelnut with biscotti, as well as a delectable South American lucuma. All in a day’s work.)
Vanilla and chocolate, what Nolan calls “the Holy Grail,” are still everybody’s favorites. Next on the list are Oreo bomb, mud pie, coffee chunk, cookie monster, peppermint stick, and bear tracks, a heavenly mixture of praline, Heath bar, caramel, and brownies. “Our consumer base lets us know what flavors stand the test of time,” noted Pat.
Frozen confection lovers will also find fat-free and low-fat yogurts, non-dairy sorbets, and bulk candy at the store.
Christine and the Wests attribute their longevity to the product, as well as to the service and the relationships they’ve cultivated. “We’re well established and we owe it to Rye,” said Nolan.
“I’ve had the opportunity to form a close bond with the community,” added Christine. “My goal is another 20 years here.”