Ernest DiNenna, an Italian immigrant who as a child sold flavored Italian ice from a pushcart on city streets and later founded an ice cream company, died of cancer Tuesday at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 84.
After years of saving his money from ice cream and frozen dessert business ventures, Mr. DiNenna and his wife opened Tutti Frutti Ice Cream Co. in Fells Point in 1950. He still owned it at the time of his death.
"He was just the ultimate businessman," said a grandson, Ernie Price of Baltimore. "But he was nice and generous just as much as he was a good businessman."
The business, in the 500 block of S. Caroline St., sells ice cream to distributors at wholesale prices.
Though his business was selling ice cream, Mr. DiNenna, who retired from daily operations in the mid-1980s, had a soft spot for area residents and charities, and often gave away his product.
"I give out a lot of ice creams to groups such as the senior citizens," he once told The Evening Sun. "I probably give away more ice cream than I sell. I just like helping people. Maybe that's why the good Lord looks after me."
He also gave "starter" ice cream to vendors beginning their businesses, said Mike Paylor, a Tutti Frutti employee since 1973.
Born in Mondella, Italy, Mr. DiNenna came to Baltimore with his parents at age 7, and the family settled in Little Italy.
Mr. DiNenna and his father made flavored Italian ice at their home daily, loaded it in a pushcart and walked to the Brooklyn neighborhood, where they sold it for a penny a cup.
Mr. DiNenna attended Polytechnic Institute, and from 1941 to 1945 worked nights at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant. During the day, he sold ice cream from a truck for several #F companies.
In 1945, he opened Maryland Made, an ice cream-making business on Eden Street. He closed that business to launch Tutti Frutti with his wife, the former Josephine Cintenio, and put a replica of the Statue of Liberty on its roof.
"That was the first thing he saw when he came to the United States from Italy," Mr. Paylor said. The replica is still there.
Mr. DiNenna was known for being adventurous and is credited PTC with introducing the "Bomb Pop," a red, white and blue rocket-shaped frozen treat, to Baltimore.
Services were held yesterday.
In addition to his wife, Mr. DiNenna is survived by three daughters, Lois Rutherford of Eldersburg and Joann Pinsky and Roseann Nusbaum, both of Baltimore; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.