1260 Oaklawn Avenue, Cranston
(401) 463-6190
www.dels.com

Del's is the summertime treat in Rhode Island. Cabinets are great, but they're not easy to find. Ice cream is great, but it is, after all, ice cream—you can get it in any civilized country in the world. But Del's Frozen Lemonade, ahhh! that's something else, and it's available pretty much anywhere you'd care to go in the state.

This location is the very first Del's Frozen Lemonade stand, and the center of a world-wide empire that started in caves near Naples, Italy, in the 1840s. It was in those caves that great-grandfather DeLucia stored snow that he gathered during the winter, insulating it with straw. When summer came he mixed the snow with sugar and the juice of ripe local lemons, creating a popular thirst-quencher that he could sell at market.

When his son, Franco, emigrated to America at the turn of the century he brought the method with him. Frozen lemonade, or granita di limone, was by no means a secret known only to the DeLucia family, though; many Italian immigrants brought over their own versions that they would make for family and friends prior to World War II. Then the war brought rationing, particularly of sugar, and for several years no one could afford such a luxury as frozen lemonade. Post-war it was the DeLucia family, in the person of Franco's son Angelo, that successfully explored the commercial possibilities of the beverage. Angelo experimented to produce a consistent product, then jury-rigged a machine that eliminated the need for slow and tedious hand cranking.

Angelo and his father had been running a bowling alley on Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston (the Oak Hill Bowl-Away), but a lack of air conditioning led to a slump in revenues in the summer months. In 1948 Angelo decided to open a small lemonade stand next door to take advantage of the heat and supplement his income. Dubbed Del's Frozen Lemonade, the product proved immediately popular. By 1955 it was too much to run both the bowling alley and the lemonade stand, so on his wife's advice Angelo sold the alley and concentrated on Del's. He modified a pair of TableTalk pie trucks into the first mobile Del's Lemonade trucks, and dispatched them to street corners, ball games, beaches, block dances, construction sites—anywhere the shining sun induced a powerful thirst.

In 1961, looking to further expand the business, Angelo decided to open a second location on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry. He purchased the land, built and equipped the stand, and placed the operation into the hands of one of his drivers—the first Del's franchisee. The man ran the stand well into the late 1990s, then passed the franchise down to his son.

By the time Angelo's son, Bruce, entered the family business in the mid- to late-1960s there were five franchises in Rhode Island. By 2006, Bruce was the head of the company and there were approximately forty-five franchises. Del's can be found throughout New England, as well as in California, Florida, New York, and even Puerto Rico. Del's was served at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and observant viewers have spotted actors drinking Del's on the television shows Providence and Maybe It's Me, and in the movies There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene.

Still made from all-natural ingredients, Del's now comes in blueberry, watermelon, cherry, peach-mango, lemon-lime, and grapefruit, as well as the traditional lemon (although not all flavors are found at all locations).

Out-of-staters don't always know how to consume a frozen Del's—they're the ones who ask for a spoon or a straw—but experienced Rhode Islanders all have their own techniques. "You squeeze the cup from the bottom in the palm of your hand as you drink," operations manager Joe Padula offered in a 1987 Providence Journal article. It also helps if you shake the cup from side to side between sips to release the fluid from the ice. If you were to use a straw you'd just suck out all the liquid and be left with a flavorless iceball.

Warning! Drinking a Del's too fast may result in an incapacitating headache. Please drink responsibly.

For those watching their girlish figures, a "lite" version of Del's lemon flavor was introduced in 1987. It was said to taste just like the original, but with about forty-two percent fewer calories. This was supplanted in the late 2000s by a zero-calorie version. A carbonated malt beverage, Del's Original Double Barrel Hard Lemonade (available only in package stores, bars, and restaurants), was rolled out in 2000, and the company has even introduced signature scented candles. In 2014, Del's teamed up with Narragansett Beer to produce the hybrid Del's Shandy, a combo of Narragansett's famous lager and Del's classic lemon flavor. A black cherry shandy soon followed.

Sometime after 1987 Del's started selling a liquid version of its lemonade in grocery stores, but the product was discontinued in 2000 when the facility where it was produced, Nature's Best Dairy in Cranston, was bought out by a Texas conglomerate. Half-gallons of the lemonade, in a reformulated version (less tart, longer shelf life), returned to store shelves in 2005, thanks in part to Little Rhody Foods, which also distributes Rhody Fresh Milk. Sixteen-ounce glass bottles are also available, in lemonade, tangerine orange, pink lemonade, and diet lemonade favors.

In addition to the bricks-and-mortar locations listed here on Quahog, Del's trucks and stands can be found parked at beaches and festivals throughout the state from March to October. If it's winter and you're craving a Del's, your best bet is to drop by one of the area malls or universities, where a handful of Del's machines are operated as concessions. Or, as of 2002, you can mix up your own at home using Del's all-natural dry mix and a blender. All you add is water and ice cubes.

The mix was developed, after six months of hard work, by nutritionist Demetrios Kazantzis. He's been employed by Del's since 1986, when he was brought on board to create Del's low-calorie frozen lemonade. Now director of research and development at Del's, Kazantzis is also responsible for the expanded flavor choices we all enjoy. (Some failed attempts include carrot, cantaloupe, and honeydew flavors.)

All of Del's mailable products, including the dry mix, are available from dels.com, onlyinrhodeisland.com, and famousfoods.com.

Del's is poised to continue on as a family business for many generations to come, providing Del's Frozen Lemonade to the rich and famous, to thirsty travelers, to kids after baseball games, to families relaxing on summer evenings, and to RIDOT workers leaning on their shovels. While there are several other upstart lemonade vendors in the New England area, Del's was the first and remains the best. This year, Del's will squeeze more than four million fresh lemons to make the unique frozen lemonade we all love.

Awards

Rhode Island Monthly Best of Rhode Island: Best Product Made in Rhode Island (1998), Best Local Food (1990), All Stars.
Yankee Magazine's Best of New England Editor's Choice: Best After-Beach Refresher (2009).

What’s nearby

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