Greek Ancestry In Middletown, Ohio

Last updated  10/29/2012


Elite Ice Cream & Candy Company

 

Submitted by
Michael Revelos

2600 Arbor Pointe Dr.

Middletown, Ohio

  

The Revelos Brothers immigrated to America from Kosma, a small village in Sparta, Greece. The family of six brothers and three sisters were raised on a small farm and made a living herding sheep and growing vegetables. They read letters from relatives who told them that if they were willing to work they could be very successful in this country. James was the first to make the move in 1903 and Nicholas in 1905 Charles in 1906 and John in 1912 followed him. This team of brothers proceeded to make the American dream come true by applying themselves to the hard work and long hours that were necessary to make it all possible.

 

Initially, James sold flowers on the streets of New York for a relative who had provided a work visa for him. He soon made contact with relatives in Lima, Ohio, who offered him the opportunity to learn the candy and ice cream making business. James then brought Nicholas over and Charles followed with the financial support of another relative. The three of them then served their apprenticeship with the candy maker in Lima. Several years later they moved to Xenia and opened a confectionery and named it the “Candy Kitchen”(this name is still embedded in the floor tiles today). After a successful year in business the partners decided to sell the store and move to Springfield, Ohio where they worked until they were able to come up with a plan for another enterprise.

 

In 1909 they moved to Middletown and opened the Elite Confectionery next to the Gordon Theater. The immediate acceptance of their ice cream and candy confections, by the citizens of Middletown, brought them the financial stability they needed. This success also created a problem with Billy Gordon who asked them to vacate their lease in his building so that he could open up his own candy store. The brothers then made a decision to open up an Elites across the street in the Castell Building next to the canal. Their grand opening celebration included a string quartet led by Nate Kunin, a local teacher of musical instruments. The store also offered an entertainment box with a mechanism that played a violin. Customers could drop a coin in it to hear violin music while enjoying their favorite ice cream sundae.

 

James handled the delivery of ice cream and candy orders from Middletown customers and would travel as far away as Monroe in a horse and buggy. The horse’s name was Ben and after awhile they developed a close bond with each other during their daily deliveries. One day when James had to go out of town on business Mr. Steve Comminos, an employee, was asked to make the deliveries. Ben, the horse, balked and backed the buggy into the canal throwing Mr. Comminos into the water. The horse panicked and took off galloping back to the stable where he hit his head on a low timber beam in the doorway. According to James, no one could come close to Ben to help until he returned from his trip. When James went to see him, Ben was so happy that “He even bent his head down so that I could examine the cut”.

 

In 1912 they brought their brother John over to help and become a partner in the business. The era of men having mustaches was slowly coming to an end and the brothers quickly adapted to the change by going clean-shaven. During the transition period, this presented a small problem because their ice cream was sold at the many summer picnics held at the Boathouse and Armco Park. It was Brother John’s job to set up a booth to sell their ice cream at these very profitable events. In order to ‘retrofit’ himself to look like most of the crowd, he started early in the spring to grow a mustache. It was amazing how that made a difference in increased sales at these events

 

They made many friendships with Middletown businessmen at the Castell location and several stories of friendship and camaraderie took place. One of these businessmen was Mr. Sebald who was the owner of the Sebald Brewery located on the canal behind them. Every week the candy store roasted fresh Spanish peanuts for their customers. The aroma from the roasting of peanuts always brought a knock on the back door and there would be an exchange of buckets of cold beer for small pails of fresh peanuts. The candies they produced were dipped with Hershey’s chocolate (both light and dark) and were made with a variety of cream centers. One of the most popular candies was called ‘Klondikes’ and it was in demand because it was affordable and chewy. The candy was composed of peanuts, caramel, cut into squares, then coated with dark chocolate.

 

During the Middletown flood of 1913, the Middletown Signal reported that Armco donated $1,000.00 to the flood victims. They also reported that the Revelos brothers donated the same amount of money as well as milk and cream for the displaced families. Local citizens also made donations, which ranged from $1.00 to $10.00. Although this does not appear to be a significant amount, the value of a dollar at that time, was the equivalent of twenty dollars today.

 

To protect themselves from losing any future store leases, the brothers decided to invest in business property on Central Avenue. In 1911 they purchased property owned by D.N. Gingerich and W.O. Barnitz, located at 1806 Central. It was a three-story building with a restaurant located on the first floor and each of the other two floors had seven sleeping rooms with one bathroom located at the back of each level. In 1916 Ella Kate Barnitz sold them the property at 1802 Central and they completed their purchases in that area by buying the property at 1804 Central from Emma Montgomery in 1920.

 

 The Revelos brothers contracted with B.D. Morgan, a local contractor, to build them a ‘state of the art’ candy and ice cream making facility on this property. Upon completion of the new building they closed the downtown store in the Castell Building and moved into their new location. The retail store was on the first floor, candy making on the second floor and ice cream making in the basement. In the back of the building there was a manual elevator that had a system of ropes and pulleys used to move supplies and product to each floor. Ammonia refrigerant was the latest technology they used in their ice cream production. Their hunter friends were quick to see the importance of this technology and often stored the results of their hunt in the freezer but also shared the bounty with the brothers. Upon completion of the new building they moved out of the Castell building downtown. This location at the ‘East End’ of Central was directly across from the P.Lorillard (Polar Bear) factory and a half block from the New York Central train station.

 

 The business did very well at this location and many of their loyal customers followed them. One of these customers was Mr. Charles Hook who became friends with the Revelos brothers. It was through this friendship that they were able to buy his Packard limousine for the business. Nicholas and John learned to drive the car at a time when there were very few cars on the road. Most people used public transportation to get to their destinations in those days. The car had seating for eight people and the four brothers used the car, not only for business, but also to take their wives to social events in a comfortable car.

 

The brothers bought milk, cream and fresh eggs from local farmers (notable among them was a Mr. Schirm and Mr. Mull). The citizens quickly accepted the rich ice cream they made and the demand began surpassing their ability to produce it. In 1926 they purchased another lot located behind their existing building from a Mary Josephine LaTourrette ‘an unmarried woman’. A new plant was built that was able to meet the increasing demand of Elite ice cream. The plant also included a system of pasteurizing raw milk deliveries from farmers who did not have that capability at the time. The many ‘visitors’ to the plant were given a glass and a spoon to scoop up the thick soft ice cream which was poured directly from the mixer. The policeman, on the beat, and postman had excellent timing when it came to the completion of each batch of ice cream.

 

To insure additional business opportunities in the downtown area, in 1919 they purchased the property at 1236 Central & Clinton from George D. Coddington. At a later date, a single building with three storerooms was constructed at this location. The Gas & Electric Company took a long-term lease on two of the storerooms and a new downtown Elites was opened in the other. The downtown store was noted for its soda fountain of white marble with flowing brown swirls that created the counter and column back bar. This beautiful marble was originally in a soda fountain at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1933. The counter and back bar was purchased from the owner by the Revelos brothers, then disassembled and reassembled at the downtown Elites.

 

It was their skill with refrigeration that brought Budweiser representatives to their store after the end of Prohibition in 1933. They were looking for a Middletown distributor for their beer in this area. The brothers felt that they had all that they could handle with the ice cream business and turned them down. Budweiser approached Mr. Reckman and Mr. Dickerson, good business friends, and they accepted the distributorship. With the discovery of Dry Ice in 1925 the company bought 15-20 ice cream carts to sell novelties in the parks and neighborhoods of the city. Many young men in Middletown applied for work with these carts because it provided them with income during the difficult years of the depression.

 

During this same time frame they purchased the Delicia Restaurant next to Webers Café and proceeded to close it down for remodeling. Again, they installed a beautiful soda fountain of green marble as well as booths attached to wood paneled walls. This was the last project that they participated in. The Great Depression of the 30’s created a slump in business for them and they had great difficulty recovering from it. They sold off the downtown Elites to Mr. Spero Hagias (a relative) and the Delicia to Mr. Paul Regas in order to meet the mounting bills, mortgages and taxes on the property they had purchased over the years.

 

In 1935 tragedy struck the partnership when Charles died from pneumonia at the age of 52, leaving a wife with four small children ranging in ages from 2 to 8. Six years later Nicholas died from a stroke at the age of 53 and he left a wife with five children; the oldest was eleven years old and the youngest three. The partnership never recovered from these two brothers’ deaths and was dissolved shortly thereafter. Family members continued the ice cream and candy business in several locations and then closed down due to the changing economics of the time. James died in 1966 at the age of 82 and John died in 1969 at the age of 79.

 

Looking back over the years we realize how these four brothers became part of the Middletown story. The dating scene for many Middletown couples meant a movie and soda or sundae at Elites. After high school football games behind Lincoln Grade School everybody would dash down to Elites to beat the crowd to get their favorite ice cream specialty. If you had your thick milk shake at the counter you were given the can with a spoon to get to the rest of the shake that refilled the glass half way. Chocolate Delight, Devils Delight, Lovers Delight, Sweethearts Sundae, Die Quick, Mutt & Jeff, Battleship, Cherry Phosphates and Tin Roof Sundae were some of the preferences enjoyed by customers. During World War II many of our boys returning home would get out at the NYC train station, walk with their duffel bags the half block to Elites, and get that thick chocolate shake they missed while in the army. Another story from a veteran at the Dayton VA Center told of two GI’s from this area meeting up in the same foxhole on Iwo Jima and talked about Elites ice cream and how great it would be to get back to have a ‘shake’. During hard times of the depression there were many families in Middletown who looked forward to the once a week treat of ice cream from Elites. There are many more stories that our older citizens can relate as to how Elites was part of their lives while growing up in Middletown.


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George Christy  
geochr@cinci.rr.com