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89-year-old Albert Doumar mans the "world's first cone machine" at Doumar's in Norfolk.
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A waitress checking on an order at the counter at Doumar's.
When you enter Doumar’s in downtown Norfolk, eye-popping orange walls, vinyl stools and cozy booths awaken a nostalgic yearning for days gone by. Parked in the front corner is the large ice-cream cone machine that was invented by Abe Doumar in 1904 and unveiled at the St. Louis World’s Fair that year. It made Doumar’s a Norfolk institution. Abe claimed to be the inventor of the ice cream cone—but others have as well.
The piano-sized cone machine smells of vanilla and sugary sweetness and produces as many as 800 cones on a busy summer day. It has four waffle irons that an operator covers with batter and then slides into a charcoal-fired stove; after a minute or two, the waffle irons are pulled out, and a cone-maker, wearing thick gloves, rolls the waffle on a wooden, cone-shaped tool. During my visit, Randy Doumar, who runs the restaurant with his brother-in-law Thad Doumar—Abe’s great-nephew—was rolling the cones.
Doumar’s other signature offering is Carolina-style barbeque, and during my visit a high school baseball team streams in, taking up every available seat. Busy waitresses take orders from kids whose parents and grandparents have patronized this hallowed diner since it opened in 1934. “For them,” explains Thad, whose dad, Albert, 89, still comes in and makes cones every day, “it’s not just a good sandwich—it’s a way to revisit a time when they came here with their granddaddy.”
1919 Monticello Avenue, 757-627-4163, Doumars.com
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