SOUTHWICK – Now in its 40th season, the owners of The Summer House on College Highway relish providing “comfort food” to customers – from ice cream to hamburgers and fries.
“The Summer House is about comfort food with customers tending to gravitate to old staples like hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and French fries,” said Steven Grimaldi, who took over the business with his brother Richard from their father, Anthony Grimaldi, in 1990.
Grimaldi added he has seen sales of hot fudge sundaes “balloon” in recent weeks as well.
“Customers during this pandemic are saying I’m going to go for it,” he said, adding, “our larger sundaes are also popular as well as our pints and quarts of ice cream to take home.”
Grimaldi noted “The Superbowl,” their largest banana split offering, has also been a popular item being ordered in recent weeks.
“People are going for the big one these days,” he said.
The original owners of the site were Curtis Blake and S. Prestley Blake, founders of Friendly’s, according to Steven Grimaldi.
“My dad bought the property in 1979 and opened the seasonal business in 1980. Rick and I have worked here since the day he opened it,” said Steven Grimaldi.
Since the coronavirus pandemic changed life for all of us earlier this year, the brothers had to rethink how they would celebrate 40 years in business.
“We had several events planned but unfortunately due to the pandemic, we had to cancel them,” said Steven Grimaldi, adding, “the 40th year has been the most challenging with the pandemic but we are just happy to be here.”
In the weeks and months ahead, the brothers hope to feature an “anniversary sundae” and an “anniversary burger,” as well as sell T-shirts and hats, and will be using signage to mark the occasion.
“Our official anniversary was April 15,” said Steven Grimaldi. “We’re glad 40 years have come and we are still here.”
Richard Grimaldi echoed those sentiments.
“People are coming here and looking for normalcy right now,” said Richard Grimaldi, adding part of his favorite time spent at The Summer House is seeing the smiles on the faces of children.
“We started meals for kids a number of years ago,” he said. “Each meal contains a token that children can use to order their own choice of ice cream and sprinkles. We’ve found the ice cream tokens are better than having a toy they will never use.”
While their menu is extensive, from snacks and sides, burgers and hot dogs, to grilled chicken specialties, wraps and sandwiches, the desserts including sundaes, ice cream and frozen yogurt always seem to be the icing on the cake for customers.
“Ice cream is a reward you choose,” said Richard Grimaldi. “People always go away smiling.”
Steven Grimaldi shared a similar sentiment.
“Our menu offerings are mostly due to customers eating habits and suggestions over the years,” he said. “We do hear a lot of feedback from our customers.”
For the past five years, the brothers have also received suggestions for gluten-free and vegan options.
“The gluten-free trend was new for us and we do offer several options,” he said, adding, “We are also looking into the ‘Impossible Burger’ and the ‘Beyond Burger.’”
Grimaldi noted over the years they added a frozen yogurt line, a sorbet for customers who are lactose intolerant, and sugar-free ice creams.
“We have also added more salads and expanded our daily specials,” he said, adding, “it’s refreshing our menu every day.”
With current state guidelines in place due to the pandemic at press time, all orders are for take out only. Food cannot be consumed in the dining rooms or on the grounds.
“We chose to take over this business from our dad because we wanted to keep it in the family,” said Steven Grimaldi, who studied business management in college, while his brother majored in microbiology. “One year went into another and we’ve had rough days but we made a good decision and we like our customers, the community, and our staff.”
Richard Grimaldi concurred.
“It has been rewarding despite the challenges of being a business owner,” said Richard Grimaldi. “We knew we could grow it from beyond what it was.”
Looking into the future, the brothers will one day turn over the reins to the next generation – Richard’s son Timothy, who currently serves as a supervisor at The Summer House.
“Tim has been here 17 years, starting at age 14, learning all the aspects of the business,” said Richard Grimaldi.
“Tim took to the business,” added Steven Grimaldi, noting also that Richard’s wife Nancy “runs the home office. With all of the current COVID-19 regulations, we are especially keeping her busy these days.”
For Timothy Grimaldi, it’s important to keep the business in the family for several reasons.
“It brought me so much joy and excitement as a child when my grandparents would make it an event to go get ice cream there,” he said. “I see that same joy and excitement in our customers and I’d like to continue to provide that for people. Also, in my adulthood, I’ve realized how much hard work and effort my dad and uncle put into the business. I want to acknowledge what they’ve put into the store and keep their legacy going. They also managed to create an environment where the staff is like a family of its own and it’s such a pleasant place to go to work every day.”
With the Grimaldi family committed to the success of The Summer House for years to come, they said it is their customers and staff who mean the most to them.
“Customer support is the most important asset we have,” said Steven Grimaldi. “The Summer House has always been a meeting place for first dates, birthday parties, even engagements, and we appreciate everyone. Especially now with the pandemic going on, we have people buying gift cards, knowing we will be here for years to come. We are humbled by our loyal customer base.”
“I especially enjoy the social aspect of the business and especially seeing children have so much fun while they are here,” added Richard Grimaldi.
While some staff members may only work a season, others have been committed to the business for years.
“Employees have left for careers and some come back,” said Steven Grimaldi. “We’ve hired children of past employees and they tell us stories about their parents working here.”
Both brothers see their business continuing to grow as the town itself continues to evolve.
“In the future as the town grows, as a business we have the potential to grow more and we’ll get more influence of what customers want to see us serve,” said Steven Grimaldi. “I think it’s going to be exciting.”