After inventing the ice cream cone and traveling up and down the East Coast for 3 years, Abe settled in Norfolk, Virginia. The Doumar’s held the exclusive ice cream cone concession at Ocean View Amusement Park from 1907 until 1942. Seven locations were included in this package. The best location, pictured here, was the main spot next to the casino on the boardwalk. The remaining locations were smaller and they opened and closed based on the crowds and time of year. All 7 spots operated on busy weekend days when the weather accommodated.
Here’s an up close view of one of the Doumar stands at Ocean View Park taken in 1920. Charles Doumar, second from the right, managed the stand for many years. Take a look at the lower right hand corner of the photo, where you can see a glass container on the counter loaded with cones ready to go.
In 1933, Norfolk took a direct hit from a hurricane. So much erosion occurred that not only did the the boardwalk collapse, but also many houses fell into the Chesapeake Bay. The owner of Ocean View Amusement park, Mr. Wells, had limited resources to rebuild, but the banks loaned him some money, and reconstruction began. It was at this time that George Doumar surveyed his options and explored branching out to the Monticello location so that he could operate year round. His caution proved insightful, as a 2nd hurricane hit Norfolk in 1935. Ocean View Amusement Park never regained its former status. We maintained a small operation there until 1942.
At the Monticello location, George, John, and Abe Doumar reinvested in the business as business conditions warranted. A dance hall and inside seating area were added in 1937, and french doors on the front of the building helped to secure the location better at night. The majority of business was outside or carryout, which is still the case today. A careful look at the picture shows a full soda fountain behind the counter. A paper sign in the window advertises barbecue sandwiches (smaller than we serve today) for sale for 15¢.
Doumar’s was a pioneer on several fronts in the 1930s. We had the first paved parking lot in the city, and we were the first to use women to wait on cars. Up until this time, only men had waited on cars outside. The term “car hop” originated from young men hopping on cars’ running boards as they pulled in and slowed to a stop. This picture shows some of our staff as they wait for autos to pull in. This 1934 photo shows waitstaff Thelma Lee, Nell, Thelma Davis, Hattie, Ruth, and Aline.
Here’s the stand operating in 1937. To the right, just behind the car, you can see “Charlie and His One Man Band”. Two blocks down, the Bill’s Barbecue showed movie shorts to entertain customers while they ate. George Doumar countered with entertainment so customers had music to listen to while they sat in the parking lot. Out front, you can see a waitress on the lookout for a customer, and the marquee beckons beer drinkers to stop for a break in the afternoon.
This picture shows Herbert Portlock cooking hams on the outside barbecue pit. Outdoor cooking for consumption by the general public was outlawed in 1942, so we moved our barbecue cooking inside, where we still do it today.
Kitty White delivers a beer to a curb customer in the early 1940’s. In the background, you can see the Palomar Dance hall, where the big bands of the time came. The Dorseys and the Millers came here and entertained locals and servicemen alike. Beer was a popular item at curb-service stands until the practice was outlawed in 1948.
This picture from 1937 shows the old building at this site. You can see one gentleman pours cone batter into the automatic dispenser of the 1909 cone machine while a young Albert Doumar, seated in the middle, collects and counts cones. An experienced operator could produce 1000 cones per hour using this machine that was equipped with 16 irons.
This semi-automatic electric machine, invented in 1909 by an Ohio State engineering student, effectively made Abe Doumar’s machine obsolete. This machine had 36 plates which spun around so the operator could remain in one place, and could produce 1000 cones per hour. Our old machine produced 200 cones per hour and kept the operator busy walking back and forth in front of it. We had both this machine and the older ones in use at Ocean View. This machine required a two-man crew operating in 30 minute shifts. It ladled its own dough from the reservoir located on the top center. This particular machine required a lot of maintenance, and George Doumar kept it functioning into the fifties. Eventually, we returned to using our original, since our need for abundant cone production lessened as the family concentrated more on selling sandwiches.
In 1946, a new restaurant called Schoe’s, opened one block away from us on Monticello Avenue. The enhanced service capability of this new restaurant threatened to cut into our business as Norfolk continued to grow. George Doumar began to explore designs for new buildings and we began construction on our current building in 1948. We moved into our new place in 1949, and business soared to new heights. One key advantage we held over Schoe’s was that we also offered inside service, which helped us during hot summers and cold winters.
Schoe’s curb service became famous for having waitresses on roller skates. In this picture, Joyce Brinkley delivers a well-balanced tray while skating and wearing hot pants. The more modest Doumar’s two blocks down never had service on skates or girls clad in skimpy shorts. George Doumar was committed to a more conservative service approach. This outfit was the Schoe’s summer uniform
Here we can see the Schoe’s girls in their winter uniforms. The Schoemaker family ran a strong operation and were our number one competitor for over 20 years. In the late sixties, Mr. Schoemaker died and his family decided to exit the restaurant business.
During World War 2, Norfolk’s population nearly tripled, and our old building was no longer sufficient for our needs. Competition from nearby Schoe’s prompted George to study other setups, especially our cousin’s place in Detroit. George’s study resulted in the building we have today. Square footage of the building tripled and, as the city continued to widen the major arteries, we moved farther away from Monticello Avenue. We added more seating inside and cars could park three deep in the front of the building. A subsequent widening of Monticello now leaves us with only 2 spots deep capability in the front of the building.
As business conditions improved and competitors improved their buildings, the Doumar family replaced the umbrellas on the parking lot with steel canopies and added neon lighting. This picture from the north side of the parking lot is a nice nighttime color shot of the building. The canopy on the north side of the building was replaced in 1967 with a canopy that is stretched out toward 20th street. The heavy steel construction of the front canopy has made it last to this day.
Our competitors at Schoe’s put a disc jockey on the roof, so we responded with our own DJ. Bob Story became well known locally in the music business, and much of his early career was spent on the roof at Doumar’s where he spun records for a mostly younger audience. This picture from 1958 shows Bob in action on the roof. Although popular, the entertainment was expensive, and both Doumar’s and Schoe’s stopped broadcasting by the early 1960s.
In the late seventies and into the eighties, we became a popular gathering spot for the hot-rod clubs on Saturday nights. Several groups from the area made Doumar’s their regular gathering spot. Eventually, the gatherings became so popular that they outgrew us. Individual groups still meet here on weeknights, and our other customers always enjoy seeing the cars and reminiscing.
Growing up in the Doumar family ensures guaranteed and compulsory employment at an early age. In this picture from 1979, Kathy Doumar works the cone machine at the age of 13. Can you spot Thad Doumar? He was 15!
All of our cones are still made on the original machine, and we still bake at least twice a day during the year. On busier days, we will use the cone machine four times. During the holiday season, over half the cones made will be sold in jars for presents to neighbors and friends.
Marrying into the Doumar family also guarantees that you will learn how to bake the cones. Randy has been baking cones since 1991. He is an amateur compared to Thad and Kathy.
During their teenage and young adult summers, you could spot Hunter and Luke, Randy and Kathy’s boys, the 4th generation, hard at work. They both joined the cone-baking force at 11 years of age.
As of 2021, Hunter has joined us full-time behind the counter!!
Chances are you will find one of the Doumar family no matter what time you stop by!
For the first time in 15 years, a member of the Doumar family is learning to bake ice cream cones. Not only that, but he is being taught by his very own Dad. Welcome Andrew, Thad’s son, to the job of ice cream cone baker!