Almost a century after the Sweet Shop's founding, it appears that people are still thirsty for countertop classics like a Hot Fudge Sundae or a Root Beer Foat. People recognize that there is comfort in tradition of socializing and enjoying a cone of homemade ice cream in the same place were their parents had their first date, or Pop worked as a Soda Jerk during his summer vacations to save up for his first car.
George Panarites, founder and original owner of the Northport Sweet Shop, was the oldest son in a family of nine children. He was born in 1893 in Kremaste, a small mountain village in southeast Sparta, Greece, but in the early 1900s he immigrated alone to America to seek a better life. Beginning around the 1920s, George went into the florist business with his cousin, Tom Dounias, in New York City. This venture lasted a few years while George was working and also learning about another kind of business, the confectionery and the ice cream trade, which he mastered by helping out at various establishments in Astoria, New York.
George Panarites, John Coulouris, Tom Haramis in the Sweet Shop circa 1929
By 1929, George Panarites was ready to move to Northport, New York, where he made good use of his new-found skills in establishing his very own business, the Northport Sweet Shop. As George described those early years, they were difficult because of the Great Depression as well as the hesitation of many to accept Greek immigrants into the community. Nevertheless, George’s strong work ethic and admirable skill at his trade were the keys to making his new business a success. When he finally began to prosper, George, like most other Greek Americans, never forgot his family back in the old country. He was always sure to send them clothing and funds, as well as enough extra to help out many of the less fortunate in his old village. In addition, he encouraged other relatives to immigrate to America so that they, too, could have a better life.
In 1935, George married Christine Coulouris, who, even though he met her in America, ironically, had come from George’s own hometown in Greece. After their marriage, both worked hard at their shop in serving quality food to the Northport community. George was noted for making excellent ice cream and high quality confectionery candy, the secret of which he taught his son, Peter, and many of the other relatives who came over from Greece. In time, the relatives moved on to open their own diners or other businesses, and in turn became very successful. The Panarites family, however, continued to operate their business in the same location and to live above the Sweet Shop in private quarters where they brought up Peter and his sister, Georgia. As Pete recalls today, he spent his first 50 years living above the shop and didn’t purchase a house until 1990, when he needed more room to raise his prize-winning Labrador retriever dogs.
Pete & Georgia Panarites circa 1943
In the late 1950s, George Panarites along with other fellow Greek Americans in the Huntington area, joined together to found St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church in Greenlawn. That was a “first” for this area which had no other place of worship for Greek Americans who were becoming more numerous on Long Island. By this time, George had achieved much of what one might call “THE AMERICAN DREAM.” As he once explained it to a local reporter, Northport and Main Street had been very good to him, and in his words, he felt that he had “found America on Main Street.”
George Panarites decorating Easter Candy circa 1953
Because the Panarites’ parents had not graduated from high school, they wanted to make sure that their children received an excellent education. Peter was sent to college and graduated, going on to teach Mathematics in public school for 31 years. During the summers and on weekends, however, Pete still worked in the family shop along with his parents and sister, Georgia. When their father passed away in 1975, Pete and Georgia continued to run the shop, always maintaining George’s high standards of quality in making ice cream and candy confections. For that reason, the Sweet Shop has long been known in the New York area for outstanding and unusual Easter chocolates which people come from all around to purchase every year. In fact, Pete and Georgia were recognized for their efforts in 1987 when they won the New York State Ice Cream and Confectionery Award. In addition, the Panarites have been noted for their candy-making in THE NEW YORK TIMES and in NEWSDAY. More recently, they have been recognized for their outstanding burgers as well as for their Club Sandwich made with turkey, bacon and tomatoes, which was voted one of the top three on Long Island.
Part of the secret to their success in the ice-cream business is George’s own recipes, which he handed down after perfecting them over the years. As for their success with the Club Sandwich, Pete has finally revealed that the secret is his organic, home-grow tomatoes, picked fresh from the vine daily all summer long.
As a former Trustee and later Mayor of Northport (2002-2006) Pete continues to carry forward his fathers high standards in business.
Today the Northport Sweet Shop, established by George Panarites in 1929, still flourishes as an institution on Long Island. Now almost 80 years after it was established, the Sweet Shop is still going strong and still proudly representing that piece of the AMERICAN DREAM which George Panarites found on MAIN STREET.
Mr & Mrs Panarites and their daughter Georgia in the Sweet Shop
1958 Pete Panarites working behind the counter after School
George Panarites with daughter Georgia & Nephew Michael circa 1961