Sunset at Tom Thumb Drive In located in Auburn, NY
Early in June, a small advertisement in The Citizen caught my eye. Besides being in red ink, it was an invitation to help Tom Thumb Ice Cream celebrate its 30th anniversary – overlooking beautiful Owasco Lake.
On July 1, 1978, Thomas and Carmela Galbato became the owners of the small ice cream stand on Route 38A or Owasco Road. They previously co-owned a beauty shop called Casa Elegante on Jordan Street in Skaneatles. It was sold and became what is now Doug’s Fish Fry.
The little ice cream stand took its name from a former owner Tom Boyham. The other owners traced back to its beginnings to Elmer Kincaid, who owned the small grocery and gas station next door. It was Elmer who built the little stand. It was said Elmer or his sales people would leave the grocery to go next door and get ice cream sundaes for the drive in customers.
In an interview June 22, Tom Galbato told me, “We bought it for the kids, to keep them busy. I knew nothing about ice cream; I was a beautician.”
And the “kids” sure were kept busy. Tom Galbato trained and encouraged hundreds of them after his own were grown that worked summers for him selling ice cream to the customers.
Tom explained, “99 percent of them, it was their first job. I taught them the customer is always right.”
When Tom and his family were traveling to Niagara Falls in 1978, he saw a billboard that gave him the idea for his businesses motto. The billboard exclaimed: “The view is our Gift to YOU!”
He pictured the view of Owasco Lake from his modest ice cream stand and envisioned picnic tables inside and outside, and more importantly, a quiet place to enjoy the magnificent sunsets over the lake.
“We built a very successful addition in 1985 and 1986 which gave us more room,” he recalls. “The full-length windows came from Seward Elementary School. My hobby is photography. When I came from Italy before I bought my first car, I purchased a pony 35 mm camera.”
And take pictures, Tom Galbato did. Not a few, but a legacy of images of fun times, laughter and proud family groupings who came for ice cream and stayed for the delightful ambiance of community and caring they felt there. No visitor can miss these pictures from over the years inside. They cover the walls. They are of the 135 “kids” who came to work for him. Or the families who made sure to visit him. No customer was exempt from Toms camera.
One fellow came back year after year to sit at a table under “his picture” as a youngster holding an ice cream cone. Now grown, he always found a “reserved sign” on his table. Tom saw him coming and hurried to place it there. Such personal touches endears him to everyone.
I was shown a picture taken by Tony Pennetta of The Citizen including a full page story about Tom Thumb. Tom had the article laminated to preserve it. He proudly explained it was the first color picture used in the newspaper featuring their new color technology
I enjoyed a huge hot fudge sundae while listening to Tom talk. He insisted I eat “before it melted,” again showing concern for the customer. Then a couple came in and the lady squealed, “He’s Here! He’s Here!” After a big hug and handshakes all around, they sat with Tom to catch up on the news since last fall.
They did not know I was interviewing Tom for this story. I was enjoying the obvious pleasure they had in seeing him. Donna and Jim Ranalli of Niles and Palm Beach, Fla. had a lot of catching up to do. While they visited, I even took a picture of them with two spoons sharing a huge sundae made with Donna’s favorite pistachio ice cream.
When I left, I saw couples sitting outside and could hear the boats on the lake below. A boy came up on a bike and went inside. This was not a difficult story to write.
Please help the Galbato family celebrate their 30th anniversary by visiting them this summer.
Laurel Auchampaugh is the Owasco historian and can be reached at the Owasco Town Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons or at firstname.lastname@example.org