A smiling Jim Aglamesis greets you at the long marble counter of the Oakley flagship of Aglamesis Bro’s. With twinkling eyes, natty tie, and a white smock coat, “Mr. A” looks like he’s about to slip you a sample of mocha chip ice cream. But it’s not the patriarch of the beloved candy and ice cream business in the flesh; it’s an oversized photo—an homage to Mr. A, who died in January, aged 93.
Between the death of the son of Greek immigrants who led the company since the 1950s and the pandemic, which halted the genteel table service in back of the store, it might seem like the end of the line for the fabled sweet shop. Even the exterior is looking a little down in the dumps, a slab of marble warping off the facade. A carry-out customer was recently overheard stage-whispering that “Things just aren’t the same since Mr. A passed away.”
A closer look inside the frozen-in-time shop belies the gossip. With frothy pink decor, Paul Anka and Nat King Cole on the sound system, and pastel-colored confections served in metal dessert cups, very little has changed since 1908, when Aglamesis Bro’s (originally called The Metropolitan) opened its doors. In fact, it’s long past due for the place to shake things up. “They’d be smart to take advantage of their preciousness,” says Dann Woellert, a Cincinnati historian specializing in food history. (“I’m an Aglamesis boy, always,” he says of his preferred hometown brand.) Reluctance to change is common in family-run companies, especially those rooted in the Old World. But finally, it’s about to happen.
The institution may have lost its figurehead, but not the family or the family tradition. Randy Young, stepson of Mr. A and president of Aglamesis for the past two decades, has quietly upheld the traditions in the back of the house. His daughter joined the firm three years ago, bringing it into a fourth generation. The premium ice cream is still mixed in small batches, sans preservatives, using the “French” method (high butterfat and egg yolk content and less pumped-in air, for a creamier, denser dessert). “You don’t need to be a chemist to read the ingredients,” Young says.
But you do need to be agile to work there. “We need more elbow room,” Young admits. He intends to move the company’s candy production off-site in order to devote the on-site factory to the cold stuff. Distribution of pint ice cream, in its distinctive pink-and-brown striped packaging, will expand from its current handful of accounts. And—hold on to your waffle cone—new Aglamesis brick-and-mortar locations are in the offing (it’s been a half-century since the sole satellite, in Montgomery, opened).
“Dad and I were different people culturally,” Young says, though he stresses that the expansion plans were underway before the passing of his father and carried his approval. “It was hard for him to relate to me wanting to experience and try new things, to embrace rapid change. That is not the Greek culture.”
But don’t fear Aglamesis will carpet-bomb the nation or water down its hometown specialness. “That is not in cards for this generation,” says Young of any growth beyond the Queen City. “We want to make it in Cincinnati for Cincinnati.”