By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — While the Island Creamery of New Jersey is not officially a family union gathering place, for Jackie Damuth and partner John Friday, it can feel just that way nestled in the Chelsea neighborhood business district of small shops and owners with big dreams.
The couple opened the small ice cream shop at 3901 Ventnor Avenue during the COVID-19 pandemic and their spring and summer side hustle survived because of their main jobs — Friday as a captain in the Atlantic City Fire Department and Damuth, a respiratory therapist with AtlantiCare Health Network.
This year, with the Stockton University Atlantic City campus growing literally across the street from them and a sizable number of Damuth’s former customers from Pleasantville reconnecting, the Island Creamery has become, well, a hot spot. The couple told Front Runner New Jersey recently this past summer has been their best year yet and are looking forward to the future.
“I like the family atmosphere here,” said Damuth, the former owner of Main Street Custard in Pleasantville. “This year has been extremely busy for us. It really took off. Three of the girls who have been with us from the first summer into the second summer have come back. I feel like we all know what we’re doing, so it’s running smoother.
“We are seeing a lot of newer faces and getting a lot of return customers from the neighborhood. Some of my old customers in Pleasantville also are starting to find us.”
The couple’s relationship has been forged in ice cream. Friday was one of Damuth’s former regular customers at Main Event Custard. The two started dating after Friday’s previous relationship broke up and he even helped her out at the location from time to time.
Damuth, though, had a young daughter and decided to close her Pleasantville location to raise her child and return to school, something her parents had urged her to do years ago.
“The people in Pleasantville started feeling like family and it just took off,” Damuth said. “I was ready to throw the towel in, and all of a sudden it just took off there. I had my daughter and was out there for another 10 years. I knew, though, that I really needed to be a mom. We had a few incidents, and I was like, ‘You know what? It’s time to be a mom.’ That’s when I left.”
With her daughter now in her 20s, she admitted she got the urge to get back into the ice cream business and Friday said he was more than willing to help her succeed.
The couple found the location on Ventnor Avenue while it was under construction and has been its one and only tenant. Putting together their efforts, with plenty of input from Damuth’s daughter, they have created a magnet for children and those with a sweet tooth, alike. They said they have a great working relationship with the Dominican restaurant next door, Sabor Latino 2.
The two businesses almost seemed made for each other, with customers at times getting lunch or and then dessert and Island Creamery.
“I love our neighbors next door,” Friday said. “We’ve seen three businesses come and go over there and they are hands down the best. If they leave, I’m going to be right behind them. I don’t want to see what the next neighbors bring. I hope I don’t see them going anywhere any time soon.”
Friday, a former U.S. Marine, said his job at the Atlantic City Fire Department can be stressful at times. He said coming from an atmosphere where he is giving orders all day, to the ice cream shop — where he is taking them from hungry customers young and old – has taught him to, well, chill out.
“I enjoy meeting the different people and different personalities,” Friday said. “It was a learning curve for me, but being a Marine and being a man of authority, I had to be a little bit more sensitive to customers. I didn’t have that in the beginning.
“So now, Jackie will tell me, ‘You’ve gotten a lot better.’ Before, I had no tolerance for adults acting crazy. I just couldn’t do it. If they said something, I would be right there on them. But now, I just smile and say that if you had a bad day or got out of the wrong side of the bed, have this ice cream and relax, just relax, and then they instantly calm down.”
One recent Friday night, the Island Creamery was packed with customers with Friday holding down the fort alone. One by one, he calmly took orders from a long stream of young children to the elderly alike just before closing time.
“I was always quick-tempered,” Friday admitted. “Working here taught me that I have to be patient and that not everyone is like me. It taught me that people are just different and have their own sorts of problems, like myself.”
While the couple said they have enough growing their successful “side hustle,” there are some drawbacks to their current location, such as a lack of a dedicated parking spot and restrooms. They said trying to find a new location could be in the future, but Friday said they will spread the word if that happens.
“You won’t have to hunt for us,” Friday said. “We’re going to let everyone know. But, I like where we are.”
For now, Damuth said she is enjoying her customers — which is the best part of the job — and reconnecting with many of the friendships she had during her first ice cream venture in Pleasantville.
“It’s fun here,” Damuth said. “When the kids come in and line up behind the counter, they can quickly form into a large group. We have a lot of fun here. My girls (Michaela Delossantos and Yolanda Giamponcaro) have worked for us for four years. They see us as parents, not bosses, so I’ve been told.”
While there are numerous small chain ice cream shops around the Atlantic City area, Damuth and Friday said they feel more than comfortable with their small, family atmosphere.
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