CHICAGO — Far South Side icon Rainbow Cone is expanding with help from another well-known Chicago food family.
The ice cream spot — which is known for its vibrant, five-flavored cones — is collaborating with Buona Beef to open a joint location May 11 at 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in north suburban Skokie. It was a standalone shop for decades after it opened in 1926 in Beverly, but Rainbow Cone has been opening more locations in recent years, offering its treats to more residents.
“We’re finally venturing north,” said Lynn Sapp, third-generation Rainbow Cone owner. “It just took us 96 years, that’s all.”
The Skokie location will be the second combination restaurant since the two Chicago food institutions merged in 2019. A shared location in suburban Darien opened last year. Rainbow Cone has also expanded to Lombard, and it’s open seasonally on Navy Pier. It’s also set up food trucks that travel around the city and suburbs.
Before those expansions, the five-flavored rainbow cone — orange sherbet, pistachio, Palmer House, strawberry and chocolate, with the ice cream sliced, not scooped — was famous but was also a rare treat for those not born and raised on the South Side. It was consistently a hit at Taste of Chicago, providing a few days every year where anyone could get a cone without having to travel to Beverly.
Sapp said the quality of the cone will remain the same as what loyalists find at the original location at 9233 S. Western Ave.
“We got seasoned ice-cream eaters, and they know the product. It’s their memories I’m protecting,” Sapp said. “The ice cream is still the treat. And it’s the reflection of time spent with family.”
Joe Buonavolanto III, Buona’s vice president of Franchise Operations & Sales, said he grew up eating Rainbow Cone at Taste of Chicago while on work breaks with his dad at their Buona Beef stand. Rainbow Cone was always “the busiest stand there,” Buonavolanto said.
The two Chicago food families got to know each other over the years, Buonavolanto said.
“There are two pieces of Chicago history: the Italian beef sandwich and the original Rainbow Cone,” Buonavolanto said. “We’re both three generations, still involved in the business. This restaurant business is a grind. And when you have two families that really worked their business every single day, you share respect for one another.”
Respect turned to partnership when Sapp went to a Buona Beef in 2016 and saw the Buonavolanto family had “young bucks in their 30s and 40s, and my hands and feet are sore,” she said. Sapp said she does not have kids and was “looking at what I’m going to do” to keep her family’s business going.
With 26 Buona Beef brick-and-mortar locations, the family had the experience and skills to scale up Rainbow Cone, Buonavolanto said.
“People that grew up going to the Beverly location, some of them migrated to different areas in the suburbs,” Buonavolanto said. “And it’s our belief we can expand there in a tasteful way.”
Sapp said her ice cream shop was a late adapter to computers and technology, and the Buonavolantos knew how to modernize the business for a new generation of ice cream eaters. Rainbow Cone’s new slogan: “Life is too short for just one flavor.”
“They get that it is a Chicago treasure. And they have the talent and the energy to go for it,” Sapp said. “Now, my job is just to tell the story.”
It was Sapp’s grandparents, Joe and Katherine, who opened the Original Rainbow Cone. The store survived the Great Depression in its early years and then the deployment of second-generation owner Robert Sapp to World War II, Lynn Sapp said.
“History has given a roller coaster ride for that little cone,” Sapp said. “You go from opening on a dirt road to limited refrigeration, to getting people to come out to you — that’s why Grandpa Joe and Katherine would be so thrilled today. Because of our advancement, from what they came through.”
Sapp said she hopes Rainbow Cone can continue expanding throughout the Chicago area, but the shop will always be rooted in Beverly.
“Beverly is not going anywhere,” Sapp said. “I just want rainbows to go out everywhere, and people biting into that cone, knowing everything is going to be OK.”
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