When Katie Georgacopoulos was growing up in her dad’s ice cream shop-- Premo’s Drive-In, known for its wild holiday-themed treats like the St. Patrick’s Day Guinness sundae--the 13-year-old began accompanying her grandmother on her sojourns to the local VFW post in Alsip.
There, Katie watched her born-on-the-fourth-of-July grandma, Judy Barella, talk to forgotten Vietnam-era veterans, making them feel as if they were the only person in the room that mattered.
“My grandmother was an American patriot who worked at the VFW post in her later years,” Katie, now 21, said. “She loved supporting patriotic causes.”
Taking a cue from her grandmother, even young Katie was able to get some of the men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to open up to her, and did a report on their experiences for her high school honors class.
So when it came time to come up with Premo’s next holiday-themed ice cream treat, Katie invented the Patriot cone, in honor of her grandmother, who passed away four years ago at the young age of 60.
“I had the idea of doing the cone,” Katie said. “My dad had the idea of adding a charity. He said it was something we could do in my grandmother’s name.”
Premo’s is selling its Patriot cones—a generous dollop of soft-serve custard hand-dipped in cherry and blue-raspberry coatings for $3 throughout the month of July.
All of the red, white and blue Patriot cone sales will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that fosters the well being of wounded service members in the post Sept. 11, 2001 era.
“We’re happy to be doing this,” Katie said, an aspiring special education teacher. “We’re lucky to be open with the economy the way it is and to have a successful business.”
Katie’s dad, Louis Georgacopoulos, is the fifth owner of Premo’s, one of original roadside drive-ins back when 95th Street was South Side Chicago’s main escape route west. Louis used to hang out at the “ice cream and hamburger joint” while a student at Oak Lawn Community High School.
After finishing law school at DePaul University, Louis ended up buying Premo’s.
“My dad never worked as a lawyer,” Katie said. “He is a very eccentric, creative, fun person. This is what he was meant to do.”
The secret of Premo’s success may lie in its top-secret ice cream recipe—a creamy custard that was originally made in back of the shop. When that became no longer feasible, Louis Georgacopoulos sold the recipe to an undisclosed dairy in Illinois that makes the ice cream exclusively for Premo’s.
“We’ve actually had people dig through our Dumpsters trying to find the boxes where we get out ice cream,” Katie said. “A lot of people want our recipe. It’s a dog-eat-dog business.”
Because her own dad had to work so hard to keep himself in college financially, Louis has enabled many students to work their way through school at Premo’s. A large tip jar labeled “college fund” has purchased more than few college textbooks for young Premo employees.
“We’ve had a lot of successful people come out of Premo’s,” Katie said. “We have had two nurses graduate this year and a lawyer. My dad says its because they learned how to talk to people and work hard.”
Patriot cones are on sale now for $3 through the month of July. The Georgacopoulos family plans to present a check to the Wounded Warrior Project the end of the month in Judy Barella's memory.