Domenick Italiano, 90, creator of Italiano’s Water Ice, died Sunday, June 13, of heart disease in his South Philadelphia home.
Mr. Italiano, affectionately known as Mousey due to his speed or diminutive stature -- depending on whom you ask -- opened his family water ice business at his home at South 12th and Shunk Streets in 1976. Some would say it was in his blood; his father, the late Filippo Italiano, started selling shaved ice and syrup from a pushcart and later opened Pop’s, another South Philly water ice institution.
Italiano’s Water Ice became a summertime tradition, and the business laid claim to being the originator of the Gelati, a delicious layering of ice cream and water ice now a staple at many stands.
But as tasty as his treats were, many customers came to Italiano’s walk-up window for the added pleasure of the proprietor’s sunny personality.
“He’d be outside singing. He could carry a tune. A cappella,” his daughter Nanci Italiano said. “He loved talking to the people. He loved making his water ice. They’d say, ‘How do you make it?’ He’d say, ‘I make it with looove.’ “
Mr. Italiano was born in South Philadelphia and raised by his father and mother, Teresa Italiano.
Mr. Italiano served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. When he returned home, he met and married his wife, Nora, and they raised three children in South Philadelphia.
For about 20 years, Mr. Italiano worked for IBM in Center City in what was then the office products division, overseeing the rental of equipment such as typewriters. His daughter learned after her father’s death that he was a happy-go-lucky jokester who often brought in coffee and corn muffins for his coworkers. He operated the water-ice business summer nights and weekends.
“He could have been promoted [at IBM], but he would have had to uproot his family,” his daughter said. “He was happy with his smaller job, staying where he was and where everybody loved him. He did that to keep us stable here. He was happy as that regular guy.”
Mr. Italiano was also a Mummer, a longtime member of the Downtowners Fancy Brigade. Good with his hands and tools, he helped build their floats.
“He was a Mummer through and through. He was a Mummer forever,” his daughter said.
Mr. Italiano also enjoyed making a wager now and then. He enjoyed football as a sport, played street ball as a younger man and had a lot of respect for Tom Brady, but he wasn’t a partisan of any one team, Nanci Italiano said.
“No football team was his favorite,” she said. “Whatever he had his money on, that was his favorite.”
He liked betting on the horses, too. The other day, Mr. Italiano’s daughter stopped by the Turf Club, an offtrack betting location in South Philadelphia, to get a copy of the Daily Racing Program to send along with her father in his journey to the afterlife. He went to the club often, for social reasons as much as anything else.
The regulars were saddened to learn of Mr. Italiano’s death.
“The Ice Man!” one of them said, upon hearing the news.
“He would have liked that,” his daughter said.
Mr. Italiano is also survived by another daughter, Donna Italiano; two grandchildren; one great grandchild; and other relatives. His wife, son Frankie, five siblings, and mother died earlier. His father’s second wife Savina Italiano, Mr. Italiano’s stepmother, also died before him.
A viewing was held Thursday, June 17, at Murphy Ruffenach Brian W. Donnelly Funeral Home, 2239 S. Third St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19148. Another viewing will be held Friday, June 18, from 9 to 10 a.m. at Stella Maris Catholic Church, 2901 S. 10th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19148. A Funeral Mass will follow at 10 a.m. Burial will be at Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Springfield, Pa.
Donations in Mr. Italiano’s memory may be made to Stella Maris Catholic Church.