hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 21, 2013

Armenian ice cream cone hits the spot

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — On a hot summer’s day, there was no better way to cool off than with an ice cream cone.

And no better place to get it than Sarky’s Variety Store in Somerville.

Growing up there as a kid, I quickly learned Sarky had the best ice cream around. But you had to eat it quickly, otherwise it would melt all over your hands and make a big mess. More than once, my scoop fell to the pavement and melted into a puddle.

Sarky would give you an instant refill. At least I was honest about it and he appreciated the truth. You learned strong ethnic values from that shop. Others I knew would swallow their ice cream and go back for seconds — saying they, too, lost their scoop to the street.

Sarky was an Armenian through and through. His last name was Giragosian and his shop was located on one of the side streets off Broadway. People shopped here for a quick grocery fix. The kids came here for one thing — their ice cream.

Back then, there were three basic flavors: Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Coffee was later introduced. Howard Johnson’s came out with its 28 flavors, but Sarky held his own. He gave you one big scoop for a nickel. The jimmies were free.

Today, you go to an ice cream stand, dish out $3 for a kiddie scoop, and stand before a menu trying to make up your mind.

What will it be? Mocha chip? Mud slide? Or the new Boston Strong following the recent bombings? This one features chocolate/fudge with a fudge crunch swirl, and $1 goes to the One Fund to benefit the victims.

For you ice cream gluttons, there is the Grand Slam with seven scoops of ice cream, one banana, one homemade brownie, four toppings, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. If you’re dieting, go ahead and leave off the cherry.

Sarky would have none of these preposterous concoctions. His idea of a good cone was one plentiful scoop with no condiments. He often said they would kill the taste.

And then one day, he put up a sign: “Sarky’s Variety — home of the Armenian ice cream cone.” What was this all about? Had this old man suddenly lost his marbles? Maybe the heat was getting to him.

He had come up with a red, blue and orange cone. No fooling. The red was raspberry sherbert. So was the orange. Sandwiched in between was the vanilla with blue food coloring. He mixed all three flavors into a bin and served it up in a big helping.

Anybody who was Armenian in the neighborhood and knew his Armenian colors would react. Those who were not may have noticed the Armenian flag flying outside his shop. It was more than just an eye-catcher.

Sarky Giragosian was a proud survivor of the Armenian genocide and wanted everyone to appreciate his culture. Others were doing it with history books and speeches. He did it with ice cream. The entrepreneur that he was drew ice cream lovers from throughout the city, most of them bent on curiosity.

It was one of a kind. I did not see an Irish cone or a Polish cone. No other Armenian in our city infringed upon Sarky’s claim.

In the years that followed, the shop eventually gave way to urban renewal. The mega chains came in and forced the small business owners into oblivion.

The last day of Sarky’s business was turned into a bonanza. Free ice cream! All you wanted. All you could eat. The kids flocked to his door for the biggest treat of their lives.

As I look into my freezer, I see four different containers of ice cream. We have a maple walnut and a mint chocolate chip, joined by a black raspberry and a strawberry frozen yogurt. The latter has my name written on it. They say it’s better for you.

We don’t indulge every evening, maybe every other night while the TV is going. Ice cream stands are a favorite stop. We cannot resist the temptation of a good treat.

While touring Armenia, one evening I wound up at an ice cream stand on Sayat Nova Street. It was not your typical fare — and it was doing a whale of a business.

Italian Gelato! Yes, Italian ice cream with 20 different varieties in the middle of Hayastan. I settled upon a pistachio that was out of this world.

If Sarky were around and had his Armenian tricolor ice cream stand, no doubt he would have made a fortune in the country he loved best. And he probably would have given all the profits back to the people.

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Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.