Dave Fernicola behind the counter of Just Another Day’s, which holds its grand opening in Asbury Park on Sunday. Photo by Mary Walton
By Mary Walton
For 136 years come August, Ocean Grovers have been flocking to Day’s for ice cream. Talk about historic! It is the town’s oldest continuously operating business.
Day’s opened at its original and current Pitman Avenue location in August, 1876, according to an undated newspaper article in the archives of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove. At the time, only one other business, the Osborn House, occupied the “scrub pine waste dotted with sand dunes” that extended to the ocean. But the Ocean Grove ice cream parlor was not the first such establishment owned by brothers William F. and Pennington Day. The enterprising pair had already been selling ice cream at a popular restaurant, also called Day’s, in Morristown. And after opening the Ocean Grove business, they branched out the following year to Asbury Park, with an ice cream garden at 219 Asbury Avenue. At some point their ice cream empire included a Newark outlet. The two shore businesses had similar designs, with tables surrounding a grassy courtyard filled with flowers.
Dave Fernicola and Arnold Teixeira have owned the business, formally named the Starving Artist at Day’s, since 1999. The Starving Artist restaurant, which fronts on Olin Avenue, serves breakfast and dinner year round, while the ice cream parlor is open only from mid-May to mid-October.
For years, Fernicola said in an interview, people have been telling him he ought to launch another Day’s in Asbury Park. “I gave in this year.” The new place, “Just Another Day’s,” debuted two weeks ago on the Asbury boardwalk north of the casino. But on Sunday at 8 p.m. it will proclaim its presence with a disco extravaganza.
Just Another Day’s substitutes shiny chrome fixtures, roomy display cases and a bank of colorful topping dispensers lining one wall for Ocean Grove’s well-worn and cluttered service area decorated with memorabilia. But the ice cream will be the same, Fernicola said. “Just basic ice cream,” but with “really cool flavors.”
The earlier Asbury Park Day’s was at 219 Asbury Avenue. Photo courtesy of Ocean Grove Historical Society
The original Day’s sold only ice cream, and it was closed on Sundays. When Agnes Day, the sister of the two founders, took over, she added tea sandwiches. One of the delicacies in those days was nesselrode pudding, made with French chestnuts and orange flower water. Another was a plum pudding, composed of chocolate, fruit and whipped cream, and topped with a cherry. In those days before refrigeration those confections would have been easier to make than the ice cream, which required vast quantities of ice.
The earliest frozen dessert, according to that fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia, originated in the Persian Empire when people poured grape-juice concentrate over snow. This, of course, sounds like today’s water ices. For centuries, snow or ice was the basis of frozen desserts. The Middle East continued to pioneer in this culinary arena. Arabs are thought to have been the first to use milk as a major ingredient. Recipes for “true ice cream” first appeared in 18th-century England and American. And in 1843, Wikipedia says, Nancy Johnson of Philadelphia was issued the first U.S. patent for a small-scale hand cranked ice cream freezer.
This 1890 ad in the Ocean Grove Record promotes both the Asbury and OG busineses.
In 1929 the Asbury Park Day’s closed its doors forever. In these parts it is remembered for employing Paul Robeson, later to become famous as an actor, singer and blacklisted left-wing radical. As a youth at Day’s, he is said in the aforementioned newspaper account to have “tempered his work with song.” The young black man likely boarded at the Ocean Grove Day’s, where the second and third floors housed employees. The story goes that Day’s also launched the chocolate-making career of William Hershey, who made his first batch of candy with Wilbur in the Morristown establishment.
More recently, a young waitress penned her “Remembrances of Day’s Past….1949-52.” In addition to the ice cream parlor, by then Day’s operated a full-fledged tearoom and a gift shop that sold jewelry, candy and stationery. It was now open on Sundays, but under existing blue laws ice cream could not be sold apart from a meal — too much of a “pleasurable luxury” if eaten solo, the young woman wrote. She added, “This was not easily explained to non Ocean Grovers and the hard-of-hearing.” Ice cream could, however, be served as dessert following a meal — but only by male waiters.
In 1950, according to these “remembrances,” Day’s was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Homer Secor, who owned Highgate Hall in Montclair, N.J. A subsequent owner was Ben C. Douglas, a beloved Grover who founded the Citizens Patrol after his son was mugged. Douglas immortalized the years from 1968 to 1988, when he owned and operated the restaurant, in a memoir told through the eyes of his mongrel dog, Rover. It is titled Rover Speaks Out.
The present owners, Philip Herr II and his wife Karla, bought Day’s in 1992 from Douglas and spent the next five years renovating the building. During that period the restaurant was closed but the ice cream parlor remained open. The Herrs now occupy the two floors where employees once lived, and Mrs. Herr tends the large and colorful garden on the east side of the building.
Dave Fernicola grew up in Elizabeth and lived 20 years in Tom’s River before moving to Ocean Grove in 1992, drawn, he said, by “the sense of community.” For a time he owned and operated the Bath Avenue House, but when he and Teixeira had the opportunity to buy Day’s they formed a business partnership. Both oversee the Starving Artist in the winter, while Fernicola presides over the ice cream business in the summer. He is a familiar sight behind the counter.
A couple years into his new career, Fernicola cemented his dedication with a large tattoo of a three-scoop ice cream cone on his left arm. Business has flourished. Says Fernicola, “If you do what you do and it comes from the heart, people know.”
Day’s back in the day. It is Ocean Grove’s oldest continuously operating business. From Historical Society archives.
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