By Katie Kreis
Photographs by Ricki Alford and Katie Kreis
When you bite into Lagomarcino’s chocolate, you’ll find rich cream, bright mint or maybe even caramel. The excellence of their business is no accident—the Lagomarcino family has been perfecting their craft for over 100 years.
Founded by Italian immigrants Angelo and Luigia Lagomarcino in 1908, the shoppe originally offered ice cream sodas, malted milks, specialty sundaes and assorted food to everyone who passed through downtown Moline, Illinois. All the while, their family lived above the store so they could come down and help at a moment’s notice.
“For not being an educated man, my grandfather coming to this country and doing what he did is pretty remarkable,” said Beth Lagomarcino, member of the third generation of Lagomarcinos and co-owner of the Moline store. “He came from a town called Lagomarsino that has only 67 residents today.”
Maintaining those traditions, the storefront’s ice cream counter and restaurant have become an attraction over the years, transporting customers back to the early 1900s. Plus, creating a second storefront with an updated candy kitchen in Davenport in the 1990s helped spread Lagomarcino’s chocolates and traditions to Iowa.
“The best thing you can do is be the best business you possibly can,” said Tom Lagomarcino Jr., co-owner of the Davenport store and member of the third generation. “Number two is working with other businesses to make your downtown or historic shopping district the best it can possibly be. Third is being an active member of the larger community.”
As the family’s second generation folded into the business in the mid-1900s, so did fresh ideas. It was during this time that they perfected their candy-making skills and began to offer deluxe assorted chocolates. Thanks to Tom Sr.’s wife, Betsy, they were soon able to ship their products. Together, siblings Charlie, Mary, and Tom Sr., along with their cousin Joe Schenone and his wife Anita, spread Lagomarcino’s candy and reputation for delectable sweets across the nation.
The third generation of Lagomarcinos, Tom Sr.’s children, came into the business in the 1980s and 1990s. Beth took over management of the Moline store while her husband assumed the role of candy maker in retirement. Tom Jr. and Lisa, Tom and Beth’s sister, opened the second location in Davenport.
“Our sister, Lisa, is more comfortable behind the scenes,” said Beth. “She has been at the forefront of redesigning all of our boxes, and she is always on the lookout for new ideas for novelty chocolates.”
“When I first came back 40 years ago, it was a little awkward,” said Beth. “I had worked there as a child and then came back into the business working with some of the same people who had been there when I was a child. So things were a little challenging at first. I just took on more and more responsibility but being here enabled me to be at home a little more with our kids when they were young, so it worked out well. Our kids got to grow up in the store like we did.”
“We were never pressured to join the business,” said Tom. “Beth did many things to transition from the second generation to the next generation. When I came in, I realized there’s no way we can keep making candy by hand. That’s when we started buying equipment and the second location so we could begin growing the business.”
All 10 of Beth, Tom and Lisa’s children worked at both stores during their high school and college years. Presently, Beth and Terry’s children, Katie and Daniel, are managers and represent the fourth generation to work in the business. Katie has never left the business, working while getting her business degree from Western Illinois University, and markets the business through social media and merchandising. Daniel returned several years ago, bringing technical aspects to the business like point of sale, inventory control and managing more wholesale accounts. They have both been instrumental in looking for new ways to grow the business.
While Lagomarcino’s primarily serves its customers in the stores or online, community is a deeply-rooted value that shines through. The stores are involved with various local festivals, walk/runs, and bringing small businesses together to succeed.
In fact, Lagomarcino’s won the James Beard Foundation Award in 2006 and was named one of America’s Classics. According to the foundation’s website, the award recognizes restaurants across the nation that have a timeless appeal and “serve quality food that reflects the character of their communities.”
Additionally, hiring people with special needs is close to the third generation’s hearts.
“That’s what I went to school for. Beth is a former special education teacher and my sister Lisa worked at Handicapped Development Center years ago,” said Tom. “We also hire high school kids for their first job, which is another level of community involvement. You’re teaching kids how to work. And they are also working alongside people with special needs.”
Lagomarcino’s is a member of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Family Business Program, housed in Business and Community Services. One service they utilized was the Family Business Program for succession planning. Dan Beenken, director of the program, meets with families individually and as a whole to work on succession in a way that is right for all parties.
“We knew the elephant was in the room but we were working so hard every day that we just kept pushing it back,” said Tom. “Dan was instrumental in bringing the key players and family members together. Making us have goals and objectives. That was a huge weight lifted off of us because it brought in a third party who could objectively look at it and take the emotion out.”
For more information about succession planning and all the services offered by the UNI Family Business Program, visit https://unifamilybusinesscenter.com/membership. To read the 2021 Entrepreneurship at UNI Annual Report, where this story was originally published, click here or download the PDF via the link below.