Nothing says summer like going out for ice cream. And in Meriden, nothing says ice cream like Les’ Dairy Bar. A fixture on East Main Street since 1950, a trip to Les’ is like a trip back in time.
The name Les’ alone evokes sweet childhood memories — especially for owner Debbie DiGiandomenico, who grew up around the corner on Murray Street. Les’ was a frequent stop for her throughout her youth, even before her parents bought the tiny ice cream stand from Les Anderson in 1976. (Les’ was named not for him but for his daughter, Leslie.)
DiGiandomenico, who took over the family business in 1982, says the dairy bar has changed very little over the years, aside from adding more choices to the menu. The original Les’ served only chocolate and vanilla ice cream and crushed ices, she says. Today, you can order slushes, flurries and more, including sugar-free ice cream and frozen yogurt. But the menu still features many traditional favorites.
According to Olivia Cooley, who was scooping orders the day Patch visited, “People have said to me that we’re the only place where you can still get an old fashioned ice cream soda.”
Cooley is one of about 13 or 14 part-time employees who work at Les’, which is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week from March through October. She says the most popular items on the menu are the Peanut Butter Parfait and the Upside-Down Banana Split.
DiGiandomenico herself prefers the classics--vanilla ice cream with hot fudge.
“I love ice cream,” she says. “It’s truly unfortunate that I work here. I have it almost every day.”
Mayor Mike Rhode, a Les’ regular, says he usually orders a chocolate swirl — small. (He’s watching his weight.) “I get there about once a week,” he told Patch.
Les’ has lots of regulars besides the mayor. DiGiandomenico says she knows many customers by their orders, although she admits she is bad with names.
And Meridenites aren’t the only ones who regularly frequent the place.
“We came all the way from Wallingford for Les’,” said one customer, who took her three children there for a cool treat on a hot August day.
While Les’ remains popular and largely unchanged, the area around it “has changed 100 percent,” DiGiandomenico relates—especially where ice cream options are concerned.
“Back in the day, it was just me and George at Dairy Queen,” she explains. Now East Main Street is packed with fast food spots—each with its own ice cream items on the menu.
Les’ used to get a lot of business from the baseball leagues in town, too, she adds, but the sports fields all have their own concession stands now.
Business is not as good as it used to be, DiGiandomenico laments, “but we’re still busy. We’re still doing OK.”
Les’ has taken — and dished out — its share of licks over the years. If you want a sample, stop by before the rest of the summer melts away. It's on the corner of East Main and Murray streets. (Don't look for it in the phone book. It's not listed.)