VENTNOR — “Everybody has their guy,” Robert Lukasiewicz said. “There’s a trust. It took me a while to get known.”
Lukasiewicz is one of more than a dozen veterans who stroll the beaches of Ventnor during the day hawking ice cream and other frozen goodies — or as he calls it, “sugar, cream and love” — to kids of all ages.
Some of his dozens of daily customers are regulars who know Lukasiewicz by name. Others are meeting the towering former Marine for the first time, but he is quick to make friends.
This is Lukasiewicz’s 13th consecutive year on the beach.
“I almost quit the first day,” he said, offering a gentle smirk. That was when the vendors were required to carry their coolers instead of pushing a cart.
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Lukasiewicz, 56, was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for “quite a while” during his four years in the service and compared carrying the cooler to a military pack. He lugged the box for eight years before switching to the cart, which he said can hold three to four times the amount.
On his cart, Lukasiewicz had eight smaller bags attached to a 150-quart cooler. He wants to carry as much weight as possible on the cart because, as he puts it, “if you’re not on the sand, you’re not able to sell.”
“Hi, Mike,” Lukasiewicz says as a fellow ice cream vendor walks by. “Hi, Robert,” Mike replies. “Happy Saturday.”
“Yeah, I think it will be good,” Lukasiewicz replies, but the two don’t chat more.
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Lukasiewicz’s prediction was based on the weather, he said, as he unraveled the science of selling ice cream on the beach.
“If it’s a really hot day, really humid, the ice products move faster than the ice cream,” he said. “Eighty-85 degrees is ideal for ice cream sales.”
Over the past year, the ice cream man in Ventnor almost became endangered as the city considered switching to a Margate-style single-vendor license. But the citizens of the city came together to support the veterans and keep the licenses for them only.
Lukasiewicz said he tries to stay out of politics, but at that time, he “saw a movement developing.”
“You’ve got to realize the guy who comes out here puts his blood, sweat and tears into the job of building relationships,” Lukasiewicz said.
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He said he has seen children grow into adults over his 13 years on the beach and is humbled when a father tells his child he is a veteran.
For about 20 minutes on a Saturday, Lukasiewicz stood behind his white pickup truck and packed his coolers. In addition to ice cream, Lukasiewicz carries some tools and other items for emergency repairs.
“Everything has a purpose,” he said.
Lukasiewicz used to wear superhero shirts during his route but now wears a more purposeful long-sleeved, sweat-wicking button-up above his cargo shorts, which protects his very fair skin.
His hair is white and thinning on the top, and the transition lenses on his metal-framed glasses had already converted for the sun as he prepared. Lukasiewicz wore tan combat boots that rose to the middle of his calf, capped with tan socks that peaked out the top. The boots — the same the Marines wear — were a strategic purchase because they are waterproof and allow him to walk on the more compacted sand near the water’s edge instead of trekking through the soft, dry sand above.
After tying an American flag bandanna around his forehead and topping it with a red hat emblazoned with the Marines’ motto, Semper Fi, Lukasiewicz was finally ready to hit the sand.
Timing is key.
“If you get out too early, it’s OK, but most guys start around 12 because, you know, the kids got to eat their lunch first,” he said.
Lukasiewicz’s demeanor is mellow, his voice a deep baritone when he calls out, “Ice cream!”
Not long after he arrived on the Troy Avenue beach, a young girl ran over to scope out his cooler.
“Who’s the best little girl at the beach?” Lukasiewicz asked.
“Me!” shouted Charlie Myerowitz, 3, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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Her mother, Amy, came up behind her with some money.
“She looks forward to it every day we’re here,” Amy Myerowitz said.
Wherever he walks, Lukasiewicz is the most popular guy at the beach, possibly more appealing than a shopping mall Santa Claus. Customers are quick to start a conversation.
“That’s just how it is out here, a fellowship, a camaraderie, a community,” Lukasiewicz said.
Gloria Romolini, of South Philadelphia, and her family have owned a shore home on Wyoming Avenue for 20 years, and having “their” ice cream man is part of the shore experience.
“It’s awesome. They know our kids. It’s tradition,” Romolini said.
To many, Lukasiewicz is “their ice cream man.” To his five grandchildren, he is “Pop Pop” and Lukasiewicz talked about them lovingly. He said he is trying to teach his school-age granddaughter Embry, who lives with him, his same entrepreneurial spirit.
In his spare time, Lukasiewicz earns a living as an Uber driver, among his many professions.
“I kind of like being my own boss,” he said.
Lukasiewicz said he graduated from Edgewood High School in Winslow Township, Camden County, and joined the Marines in 1981. When he returned to civilian life in 1985, he worked in factories in South Jersey.
Now, he spends the rest of his time rehabilitating his century-old home in Atlantic City.
“Ice cream has been a saving grace a lot of summers,” he said.
His goal every day: “To make this as light as possible before I go back home,” he said, pointing to his cooler.