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Mario’s Italian Lemonade Has Been Helping Chicagoans Enjoy Summer for Almost 70 Years

Kathleen Hinkel
Customers waiting in line outside Mario’s Italian Lemonade
Mario’s Italian Lemonade has been delighting customers once the weather warms since 1954. Photo: Kathleen Hinkel for WTTW

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There are a few things in Chicago that mark the end of winter and the arrival of our cherished warmer weather. Robins chirp outside windows, flowers start to bloom, and come May 1, lines form on Taylor Street as customers wait for invigorating Italian ice from Mario’s Italian Lemonade.

The business started in 1954, when Mario “Skip” DiPaolo was six years old. Skip was a rowdy child, so his father, also Mario, got him a hand-cranked lemonade machine to channel his tremendous energy. Skip began churning and selling lemonade for two cents in front of the family’s home in Little Italy on Chicago’s Near West Side, and soon he, his father, his sister Donna, and mother Dorothy were running a popular business.

Skip is now 75 years old, and runs the stand with his children and wife, Maria—who herself started working there as a thirteen year-old. Over the decades, Mario’s has become a community gathering place, serving as a celebratory stop after graduations and sports wins, or just as an annual family tradition.

These photos are from the first week of Mario’s Italian Lemonade’s 69th season.

Mario “Skip” DiPaolo, now 75 years old, still lives next door to his Italian ice stand, and watches the action from his stoop.

Mario DiPaolo sits on the stairs outside his store.

He and his wife, Maria, have worked the business for decades.

Mario and his wife, Maria, laughing with customers.

Once Mario’s opens for the season in May, the line often stretches down the block.

A long line of customers waiting for Italian ice.

Angela McLemore has been coming during Mario’s first week for as long as she can remember. Her late brother Nelson and his wife Ollie always came on opening day.

Angela McLemore in her car enjoying Italian ice.

Dontrey Britt-Hart and her son Matthew usually go to Mario’s during its opening week with Matthew’s two older brothers. They felt a little bad for indulging without them.

Dontrel Britt-Hart and her son Matthew showing off their ice choices.

Mario’s is a popular spot for sports teams celebrating a win, like the Sheridan McGuane Baseball League’s White Sox. From left, Dominic Macias, Vinny Macias, Madison Macias, Allen Vannevar, and Graham Petersen.

Kids after a little league game enjoying their Italian ice.

Students from the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago such as Akhil Nidadavolu might visit after graduation.

Akhil Nidadavolu in graduation gown holding two different flavors of Italian ice.

Or a UIC student like Hana Sayeed might simply stop by for a refreshing dessert.

Hana Sayeed enjoying a refreshing dessert.

Student-age young people such as 18 year-old Ephraim Balogun staff the stand.

Ephraim Balogun serving up several cups of Italian ice.

21 year-old Noelle Oh became a manager this year, after two previous years working at Mario’s.

Noelle Oh leaning out of the serving window.

Mario’s has 30 rotating flavors, with 21 offered at any given time.

Tray of four Italian ice cups with straws.

Among the flavors are blue raspberry and lychee, the choices of Alissa Latham and Joanna Williams, who was having her first ice.

Two women taking a selfie in front of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand.

Some people, like Mariam Nur, document their ice with a photo after waiting in line.

A woman taking a picture of her Italian lemonade.

Others tuck in right away, as Liam Kellen did while his sister Julie fed the family dog, Jasper, who got his own ice.

Small kids and a dog eating their icy treats.

Mario’s remains a family business, with Skip and Maria’s children Mario and Davina helping run it.

Mario and his family sitting on the steps.

It’s a popular destination for families in the neighborhood, like Katie DiCianni and her son Nico, who grabbed an ice on their way to the park right when the stand opened.

Mother and son in front of the lemonade stand.

Maurice Chears used to come to the stand as a teenager in the nineties, and now enjoys visiting with his daughter Lashunda.

Father and daughter eating Italian ice and laughing.

Mina Lopez has often enjoyed Mario’s, but brought Carlos Casique for his first ice.

Two people enjoying their treat, as a woman with an ice cream cone walks past.

Members of the Chicago Fire Department stopped by for an ice on a recent evening.

Firefighters walk to the end of the line of the Italian Lemonade stand.

Crowds enjoy Mario’s into the night: it’s open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm over the summer, until the weather once again cools and Chicagoans head into winter, waiting and hoping for the warm weather to return, and with it, a refreshing taste of Italian ice.

Customers wait in line late at night.