Reflections of Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor

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“The Kitchen Sink” & A Whole Lot More! A Sweet Way To Usher in 2024 at Last Remaining Jahn’s

Jahn’s, Jan 30, 1956, Courtesy of Ron Marzlock & Michael Perlman’s collection

The sweet sensation of Jahn’s, a landmark name that signified a foremost ice cream parlor and restaurant, has been uniting generations since 1897. Who could forget the phrase “Everything else but The Kitchen Sink,” a famous dessert that served four to six patrons with colorful scoops in a huge vase-like glass? 

At its peak, there were an estimated 50 Jahn’s, but now there is only one Jahn’s at 81-04 37th Avenue in the Jackson Heights Historic District, where owners Peter Moukas and his brother Nick Moukas treat their patrons like an extended family in a nostalgic ambiance. 

In 1970, their father Tom acquired the franchised spot from 1959, and adapted to culinary shifts. Patrons are now hoping this ice cream parlor and family diner restaurant including Greek delights will continue to entice palates, so even their children’s children can experience and enjoy a New York tradition.     

In November 2007, citywide patrons, including this columnist and tourists alike, were mourning the loss of Jahn’s at 117-03 Hillside Avenue in Richmond Hill, which was second to the last standing. This 1929 location once featured ornate neon signs which read “Jahn’s, Since 1897” and “Ice Cream and Soda Water,” in addition to shutters, lintels, and egg-and-dart details under a cornice. The museum-quality interior featured soda fountains and counter, vintage booths, a checkered floor, Victorian woodwork including paneled walls, brass chandeliers and sconces, a Nickelodeon piano, and ornate framed paintings under Coca-Cola and Moxie stained-glass chandeliers. Some interior features were auctioned off and made its way out west. 

The Kitchen Sink at Jahn’s

Jahn’s existed in Rego Park in the 1950s at 97-11 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, and had many antiques on display, reminiscent of earlier locations. It was a commonality for patrons to pick up matchcovers, so for Jahn’s it read, “America’s most unusual ice cream parlour restaurant,” with the reverse stating, “Today Your Birthday? Come in with proof of birth. Have a special treat on us because we wish you well on this day.” Afterall, hospitality was a key ingredient for long-term success. A 1958 Long Island-Star Journal ad informed patrons that branches in Rego Park, Bayside, and Long Beach served luncheons, dinner, and late evening snacks, and were open from noon on Sunday through Thursday until 1 AM, Friday until 2 AM, and Saturday until 3 AM. 

Jahn’s Richmond Hill ad, 1930s

Around the mid-1950s to mid-1960s, this branch was owned by Gus Tsanos, who resided nearby with his family at Saxon Hall. His son Shawn Tsanos reminisced, “I used to go sometimes after school. When I was around five to nine, I had my birthday parties there. My father sponsored my brother’s baseball team. After the season, the whole team went to Jahn’s, and my dad gave them ‘The Kitchen Sink,’ a huge silver bowl with everything in it.” When patrons entered, the soda fountain counter was on the left, followed by a large area with tables. Framed paintings by Mr. Jahn could be found. “It was a completely different world then. There is so much of that world that I miss,” Tsanos continued.  

The walls of Jahn’s embodied unforgettable family traditions. Paul J. Cohen was raised at 65-09 99th Street and would visit Rego Park’s original site. “I loved going with my grandmother, who would spoil me. It was an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, where you have some really good ice cream and just talk with family and friends. We have Johnny Rockets that brings back the old burger joint, so I think the world needs a good ice cream parlor, which is sorely missing in today’s society. I’d love to see a Jahn’s revival.” 

Postcard of Jahn’s in Richmond Hill, circa 1967

For many, Jahn’s ties into a coming of age experience. “Born in 1956 and raised at 64-45 Booth Street, I grew up going to the Rego Park Jahn’s,” said Jerry Gedacht. “I went with my parents, and as a teen I went with friends, dates, and couples.” A unique memory is an episode of the popular satirical TV show “Candid Camera” featuring Jahn’s.   

When Lefrak Tower was erected at 97-45 Queens Boulevard in 1962, the curved corner became home to Jahn’s, a go-to spot, especially for younger patrons. Despite the building’s Modernist style, the ambiance incorporated much nostalgia. This is where Forest Hills’-own legendary punk rock band, the Ramones, could be spotted as of the mid-1970s. 

Gus Tsanos circa late 1940s, Owner of first Rego Park Jahn’s, Courtesy of son Shawn Tsanos

“As of 1973, my grandmother Charlotte S. Siegler would take my brothers and I to lunch at Jahn’s in Rego Park, usually once a week, and we also had birthday parties there,” said former Rego Park resident Barbara Arnold. “It was at Jahn’s that I learned to order food politely, as going out to eat was treated as a privilege.” She recalls an amazing tuna sandwich with an orangeade or Coke. “I also enjoyed sundaes, chocolate malteds, Manhattan clam chowder, burgers, and open-faced sandwiches, with roast beef in particular.” 

Robin Simkovsky-Atlas calls Rego Park home since age seven in 1977. “When I first moved here, that was the first place my mom, older sister, and I ate. I remember sitting in a booth with Tiffany style lights above. The back room was set up for parties.” Besides her fond memories of many parties, having dessert became creative, as she also found the Kitchen Sink to be a highlight. “There were various ice cream flavors, whipped cream, sprinkles, bananas, nuts, cherries, and all of us are trying to eat this huge dessert!” she continued. 

An expansive circa 1947 to early 1950s Richmond Hill “This Is A Menu?” intrigued patrons with uniquely named “Sundaes Mondaes Shmundaes” and asked “What’s the difference? Try one and see.” Examples included a “Tall In The Saddle” for $1.25 read “Hi Ho Silver – Away” and “The Tree” for 65 cents read, “This one grows in Jahn’s, not Brooklyn.” The specialty of the house was the Banana Split. The menu asked connoisseurs, “Have you a yen for something really gooey. Tell us what it is – we’ll make it.” Hot Chocolate Fudge was boasted as “Papa Jahn’s original candy recipe” for 35 cents, whereas Buster Brown was “An old favorite made better” for 40 cents. Pistachio Marshmallow was “Green with envy” and an Awful, Awful led to a tune, “It’s delightful, It’s delicious, It’s delectable.” The menu featured writer Irving Werstein’s narrated pictorial, “Calling All Girls – Top with Teens! Hi-School Hangout” where an excerpt read, “At Jahn’s you don’t order a separate soda for your date. You simply say ‘Double Wallop,’ which is a tremendous soda dished up in an oversized beaker, with lots of sipping for two.” Owner Frank Jahn was crowned “Emperor of Ice Cream” for his sundaes, sodas, or masterpieces to wow the teenage appetite.    

The menu also gave patrons a first-hand family history lesson, dating to winter 1888: “A sailing vessel makes port at New York, and who steps off but (German native) John Jahn, age 14, hereafter called Papa. A real greenhorn with nothing but ambition. Five years of working in a bakery at ten dollars per month with board. Papa didn’t go too much for the heat, having come from a cold country, so he left and got a job as an ice cream maker for a store in Brooklyn. This was more to his liking. He froze along and finally met Mama (Clara) at a dancing school called Weber’s. Love at first sight and so married. A married man has to be able to support a family, so Papa opened his first store in the Bronx at 138th Street and Alexander Avenue in 1897. More years of hard work selling sodas at five cents and ice cream at twenty-five cents a quart, which was never measured but tossed into whatever kind of can or dish you brought along. Now, you know there just can’t be Mama and Papa in this story, so along came Elsie, then Frank and finally Howard. Everything was fine for years, and Papa finally decided to take a rest in 1918. He vacationed for about five years, and then decided there was no reason his children shouldn’t go into the same business – so he opened a store for Elsie in Jamaica, a store for Frank here in Richmond Hill, and a store for Howard in Flushing.”  

As for Richmond Hill, their family’s voice continues to echo: “We’ve come a long way from chopping ice and turning a freezer by hand. Now we just push buttons, and modern machinery does the work for us. Ten years ago, we were the same as any so-called ice cream parlor, slinging soup and frying hamburgers, when all of a sudden it dawned on us that Papa was not a restaurateur, but made his success as a real confectioner who sold nothing but ice cream and homemade candies. So a change took place, and we really followed in Papa’s footsteps. We’ve tried our best to give the customers all the benefit of Papa’s recipes, plus up to date methods. We sincerely hope we please you. Thank you for listening, and Mama and Papa send you their best.” 

New Hampshire resident Bob Rutherford, who was raised in Forest Hills Gardens, would visit the Richmond Hill Jahn’s with his mother, who would do the same as a child in the 1920s and 1930s. “She could get a sundae and attend movies at the RKO Keith’s Richmond Hill (a frequent tradition) for a quarter each. We would get the Kitchen Sink for the Forest Hills Little League team from our coaches and parents, but when I was there by myself, I had a banana split and played the Nickelodeon for five cents. He vividly recalls the turn-of-the-century style soda fountains and the Nickelodeon player piano. “It was a large upright piano, and somehow they inserted all these instruments in its large cavity, which was quite clever.”

Bobby Knapp enjoyed visiting the Flatbush Jahn’s as a teenager. He also remembers his last visit to the Richmond Hill Jahn’s, only days before its closure. “I recall being struck and dismayed that this wonderful piece of the past was closing down, with little or no celebration. As I paid the check, I shared my sadness with the middle-aged couple. The wood walls with the carved initials were right out of another time zone, as well as an old wooden phone booth and a mirror-backed wooden counter. It reminded me of an old pharmacy/soda shop on Hegeman Avenue, which closed when I was a kid. I peeked through the door glass, and in reflection, it was as if I was looking back at a past that I could no longer touch or connect with.” 

Some shops bear a distinctive aroma. Florida resident Robert Rosner felt a connection to a storefront at 152-10 Jamaica Avenue. “It housed my dad William Rosner’s piano shop in the 1970s, but little did I know that Jahn’s was at the same shop nearly half a century earlier. I only found out after encountering a photo. It always had a sweet smell, and now I certainly know why.”   

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