The South Side’s Original Rainbow Cone is headed to the North Side
After early success at two new suburban locations, the iconic South Side ice cream parlor is expanding its partnership with Buona Beef to open a location on the North Side next spring.
North Siders, get ready for a South Side classic: The Original Rainbow Cone is taking its partnership with Buona Beef to the other side of the city next spring.
The northward expansion comes after the two longtime Chicago eateries have seen early success at their recently opened joint locations in Lombard and Darien.
“We plan on bringing this to as many communities as we can,” said John Buonavolanto, one of 15 members of the third generation in charge of the 40-year-old beef sandwich empire.
The partnership came together just as the pandemic hit last year. Lynn Sapp, a third-generation owner of the iconic sliced-not-scooped ice cream shop, said the partnership allowed her to expand her business while most restaurants were downsizing or closing.
The first step was putting four Rainbow Cone ice cream trucks on the road, something Sapp had always wanted to do but didn’t have the team to make it happen.
“That’s the beauty of the partnership,” said Sapp. “They have the infrastructure to do it, they have the 15 members of the family to do it and the experience and the knowledge.”
Buonavolanto said it was the success of the trucks in 2020 that boosted the restaurateurs' confidence to open new locations. The only learning curve, he said, was how to properly slice the ice cream. An Original Rainbow Cone is five slices of orange sherbet, pistachio, Palmer House, strawberry and chocolate.
No changes are planned at the original shop at 9233 S. Western Ave., which has been home for 95 years since Rainbow Cone moved to the other side of the street shortly after opening in 1926.
Before the partnership, the business expanded only once: Rainbow Cone opened a shop at Navy Pier in 2016.
With the combination of Buona Beef and Rainbow Cone, Buonavolanto said the companies are able to play off each others’ loyalists as well as customers who haven’t tried one of the products.
“The beauty of both products together is that because it’s family orientated, it’s a simple thing that’s bringing people together,” Sapp said.
No decisions have been made about where the North Side location will be or what it will look like. The Lombard and Darien locations each bring something new to the 95-year-old ice cream business.
The Lombard shop, which opened in May at 498 E. Roosevelt Road, has the first Rainbow Cone drive-thru window. Meanwhile, the Darien location that opened last week at 7417 S. Cass Ave. has a freestanding ice cream parlor attached to the Buona dining room.
“The beauty of this collaboration with these younger generations is their vision,” Sapp said. “They kept the cone original, but what they’ve done with the surfaces of the stores ... takes you away from the street and walks you into a different place. That’s what’s so fun about it.”
Even as the styling of the locations differ and the partnership evolves, Buonavolanto promised, “The beef is never gonna change. The Rainbow Cone is never gonna change.”
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.