Fusco’s Italian Water Ice opens on Kirkwood Highway

Pam GeorgeCulture, Headlines


Little Italy’s most popular water ice restaurant has opened a new site on Kirkwood Highway.

The Fusco’s Italian Water Ice stand in Wilmington’s Little Italy has long been part of  Joseph Staffieri’s life.

His great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles worked in the seasonal business.

“As a kid, I would stop in to see whichever family member was working,” said Staffieri, who went to St. Anthony of Padua Grade School. “I have great memories. I loved it.”

But it wasn’t until 2007 that Staffieri decided to take a turn.

“I was out of high school and unsure about a career path or college,” he recalled.

For the first year, Rosario Fusco—”Uncle Ro”—did not let Staffieri do anything but watch.

“If I got up to help someone, he yelled at me,” Staffieri said. “But I learned. It’s such a unique product and process.”

Today, Staffieri is in charge, and he also ensures that his team knows what they’re doing and why.

“There is the pride behind it,” he explained. “It can’t be altered.”

That’s not to say Staffieri is mired in the past. On April 23, 2024, he opened a location at 3926 Kirkwood Highway with 12 seats inside and four outside.

The former Starbucks location was near the vacant parking lot where he previously parked a Fusco’s trailer.

Moreover, he offers other water ice flavors besides lemon, soft-serve ice cream and tomato pie (pizza without cheese).


Fusco’s water ice is now lighting up the sky on Kirkwood Highway in an old Starbuck’s location.

Birth of Fusco’s

Fusco’s was started by Francesco “Cheech” Fusco, an immigrant from Castel Morrone in Italy’s Campania region. In 1922, he settled into a Union Street home and never left except to travel to Italy.

Cheech ran a luncheonette at 610 Union St. from 1949 to 1962 before starting the water ice stand. He also worked at Bancroft Mills fabric factory for 12 years.

Cheech’s product was homemade lemon water ice with flecks of zest, available from May or June until September.

When he died in 1991 at age 90, he was survived by three sons—Anthony, Rosario and Dominick—seven grandchildren and 11 grandchildren.

Rosario died in 2009, two years after teaching his great-nephew the icy trade, and Staffieri ran it until he decided to get a college degree. In 2021, he returned to the stand.


Choices at Fusco’s go way beyond lemon flavor and include an affogato made with expresso.

Beyond lemon

Changes over the years didn’t sit well with Uncle Ro, who, in 1974, told the News Journal that he stuck to lemon water ice because it was the only “pure” flavor available. He was proud that he traveled to Philadelphia to buy only Sunkist lemons.

That didn’t stop Rosario’s son, Bobby, from trying an artificial cherry flavor. “That was short-lived,” Staffieri said. “Uncle Ro told me, ‘Don’t you ever think about anything else.’”

But Staffieri did let his imagination run wild. In his downtime, he played around with recipes to meet the increasing request for other flavors. He found Luxardo, the original maraschino cherry that bears little resemblance to the kind in  Shirley Temple’s mocktails.

“Jackpot!” Staffieri says. “I came up with a formula that was absolutely amazing.”

Fresh pureed mangos provided the next flavor.

Fusco’s also offers homemade lactose-free soft-serve ice cream, and customers can order a soft-serve “cap” on top of water ice.

In addition, customers can order an affogato: ice cream with espresso from beans imported from Naples.

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Same, but different

Ice cream and water ice are complementary pairings. Pizza, however, seems to be the one thing that is not like the others.

Staffieri is friends with Nick Vouras, whose family owns Kozy Korner in Little Italy. Vouras recently opened Nick’s Pizza at 1903 Newport Gap Pike.

When Staffieri had his cart near Lewes Beach last summer, he offered slices of Nick’s tomato pie, and evidently, the reception was enthusiastic.  Staffieri says that now families can have a quick dinner and dessert.

With the expanded offerings, Staffieri might stay open all year on Kirkwood Highway, with the option to cut back the hours if the demand slows.

At both stores, he is fully aware that a legacy rests on his shoulders.

“There is a lot of emotion behind every cup served,” he concluded.


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