Scooping the sweet flavors of success

By Mark Ginocchio
Staff Writer
Stamford Advocate
Article Launched: 05/03/2008 02:56:55 AM

For Jay Ragusa and his Gofer Ice Cream chain, Darien was worth a return engagement.

The former UBS money manager turned ice cream store maven is marking the reopening of his Darien 1020 Post Road location today after a nearly two-year hiatus from the town.

With two other stores in Greenwich and Stamford, Darien’s Gofer Ice Cream is re-opening in a downtown that is dramatically different from when the store shut its doors in 2006 to make way for new development.

“There’s a lot more activity now, more people and more foot traffic,” said Ragusa, 36, a Stamford resident who opened his first Gofer store in Greenwich in 2003. “That’s what’s giving us the confidence to do this.”

When Ragusa first opened the Darien store in 2004, the operation was designed to be seasonal – providing a variety of soft-serve and hard ice creams during the summer months.

Since then, town officials have looked to increase the emphasis on foot traffic and discretionary spending in downtown Darien – with Gofer playing a permanent part in that plan.

New restaurants and retailers have opened up in the area. The Gofer shop is part of the Merrill Lynch building, a larger business development that includes the offices of Merrill Lynch; Pierce, Fenner & Smith; an Ole Mole Mexican Restaurant; Williams & Warren body and skin care clinic; and a Lucy women’s active wear.

“This is a peek into the future of what we’d like to see downtown,” said Debbie Parnon, executive director of Darien

Revitalization Inc. “There’s some good synergy for a younger crowd. I’m very excited they (Gofer) are in the mix. It’s all starting to come together.”

The 1,000 square-foot store will feature seating indoors and outdoors, Ragusa said.

In addition to the ice cream, the Darien Gofer will be the first to sell Italian ice and feature a gourmet “chocolate bar” of loose and boxed candies from around the world.

Ragusa said he developed the know-how to build his ice cream business from his experiences in his previous professional life.

After graduating college in 1993, Ragusa started working for UBS as a money manager. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Ragusa started examining his other options, and he went back to an idea he had long considered.

“I always had an idea of opening up Gofer Ice Cream,” he said. “I wanted to open something that had more of a hometown feel.”

Now, “I’m basically managing my own portfolio,” Ragusa said.

With its red, white and blue cartoon logo of a gopher eating ice cream, “Gofer Ice Cream” was actually derived as a play on words – telling people to “go for ice cream,” he said.

Darien business observers foresee a lot of people in town taking Ragusa up on his suggestion.

“When he was at his old store, there were always people lined up standing around the corner,” said Carol Wilder-Tamme, president and chief executive officer of the Darien Chamber of Commerce. “People will come from the movies and get their kids ice cream, or people coming from the restaurants can get dessert. . . . People always eat ice cream.”

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