If you live in Northern Westchester, odds are good that you’ve been to King Kone at least once. In fact, odds are also good that between April and October, the person you Venmo the most is Deb Hopkins. Yeah, that’s us, too.
King Kone began in 1953 when a local family opened a drive-up ice cream shop on Route 100 in Somers (they have a Katonah mailing address in case you’re wondering). Over the years, King Kone was sold several times. The current owners, Katonah residents Deb and Brian Hopkins, purchased the establishment in 2001. They believe they are the fourth owners, but they’re not positive. What they do know is that when they purchased King Kone, the only things sold were ice cream and hot dogs.
The couple, who owned a gourmet food store in Armonk called The Cheese Box and then a series of ice cream trucks (which they still own) prior to purchasing King Kone, knew the establishment could be more, and they were right. Now, residents from all over Westchester drive to King Kone for the food, along with their soft serve ice cream, and, of course, their sprinkles.
If the giant ice cream cone and the very large sign don’t give it away, King Kone’s soft serve is their top seller when it comes to ice cream, followed by mint chocolate chip, almond joy and cappuccino crunch for the adults. Kids, unsurprisingly, lean towards cotton candy and birthday bash. But more popular than all the flavors are their sprinkles.
“We sell a ton of sprinkles,” says Deb. “Most of our ice creams go out with chocolate or rainbow sprinkles, for kids and adults. We probably go through about 100 pounds of sprinkles a week.”
“Our dips are also popular,” she continues. “The most popular is the chocolate, then the cherry. Peanut butter is the least popular, probably because a lot of ice creams don’t lend themselves to be combined with peanut butter.”
Their “ultra-premium ice cream” is mostly made in small batches in Maine, although Deb wishes they could make their own.
“Our place is so tiny, and we just don’t have the space to make our own ice cream,” she says. “But I wish we could because I think I would enjoy making it, especially picking all the flavors.”
But luckily for Deb, the place is large enough for them to make food, and they make a lot of food.
Deb and Brian started serving more than just hot dogs as soon as they took over.
“We started with burgers, French fries, hot dogs, lobster rolls, grilled chicken sandwiches, and stuff like that,” Deb remembers. “And as time went on, we realized people really wanted more food options, so we expanded the menu to where it is now.”
Now, in addition to the six burgers (including one called Heart Attack Burger and another called Pizza Burger), there are also seven different types of fries (ranging from plain to chili cheese and BBQ bacon ranch), 10 starters (everything is fried – from the mac & cheese bites and ravioli to the pickles and shrimp), 10 “on a bun” options (hot dogs, pulled pork, chicken sandwiches, various seafood and a black bean burger) and 12 “favorites.” The favorites are those items you’ve probably heard your food-obsessed friends rave about: lobster (roll or club), various types of shrimp, fried clam strips, grilled cheese, etc. Wait…fried clam strips?
“There are people that will literally come two or three times a week for our clams,” says Deb. “They’re good; they’re very good. They’re not as popular as our burgers, but people love them. We also sell a ton of fries and chicken fingers.”
And then there’s the grilled cheese. There’s a kid’s version, a grown-up version (your choice of American, cheddar or Swiss on thick country bread) and the Ultimate Grilled Cheese.
“Our Ultimate Grilled Cheese has one addition to the grown-up one,” Deb explains. “You can add either fried mozzarella, fried mac & cheese bites or fried ravioli to the inside, and it’s served with a side of marinara sauce. About half the adults who order a grilled cheese order the grown-up version and the other half order the ultimate.”
“Foodies” throughout Westchester make the trek to King Kone, often numerous times a season, for the food, and, of course, the ice cream. Many can’t explain why it’s so good, but Deb will tell you it’s simple: they use local suppliers for all their food, including the seafood, and everything is cooked to order. Deb, who has worked in the food industry since high school, created every item on the menu. And she still makes the chili, coleslaw, pulled pork and crab cakes from scratch.
King Kone is not just about the food, it’s also about the community. Part of that community occurs in the notoriously long lines. (Pro tip: It’s a bit shorter on weekday afternoons if your schedule allows it). The lines, which actually move pretty quickly, are an old-fashioned way to say hello to your neighbors.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s very social in line,” Deb remarks. “After people order their food at the window, a lot of them will turn around to the people behind them and say, ‘It’s so nice to meet you – enjoy your food. Hopefully, I’ll see you soon.’ Sometimes, people make new friends in line or catch up with old friends they haven’t seen in a while. It’s a nice reminder of what life can be like in a small town.”
And part of that small-town community is supporting local organizations. Deb and Brian donate ice cream to local families who they know are struggling to make ends meet, and they host several fundraisers each year by designating a day where all the proceeds are donated to the charity. They post the dates for these days on Instagram and Facebook.
No story about King Kone would be complete without discussing, and dispelling, the many rumors.
First, the rides: If you lived here with kids prior to the pandemic, you probably remember the coin-operated kiddie rides. Those were actually removed pre-pandemic because they constantly broke.
Second, the sandbox: It’s still there, but it’s covered with plywood, and there’s a table over it. They’ll reopen it when the Board of Health allows it, and when their customers are comfortable with it.
Third: No, they do not own, nor is there any connection, to King Kone in Pearl River. According to Deb, the name King Kone was never trademarked, and when they tried, they couldn’t. So, other King Kones exist, but there’s no relation.
Fourth: No, you cannot book one of their five ice cream trucks at the last minute. To be safe, book a month in advance.
Finally, Florida: Neither Deb nor Brian “winter” in Florida. They live in Katonah year-round.
“I don’t know why people think that, and they say it to me all the time,” says Deb. “People will actually argue with me about this. I respond, ‘I think I know where I spend my winter.’ I’m here, freezing, just like everybody else.”
But come April, she’s at the window, serving us ice cream. And King Kone is open every day until mid-October or, if weather permits, a bit later – “until it gets really cold and miserable.”
Click here to get the recipe for King Kone’s lobster rolls.
This article was published in the May/June 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.