by SELENE D. GUERRERO
photography by MATT EICH
When Albert Doumar is done with cone making, a task he calls his daily exercise, he carefully takes off his black apron, dusted in flour, and adjusts his signature suspenders before he takes a seat at a booth. His slightly off-center bow tie is smeared at the edges in batter; his eyes are focused on the door as he warmly greets customers walking in and welcomes small talk about the weather.
His presence is synonymous with Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue, the establishment that has been on Monticello Avenue in Norfolk since 1933 when George Doumar, Albert’s father, moved the business from Ocean View. The consistent nature of the diner might be what has kept the retro-looking drive-in going, but while Doumar seems always to be there, sometime in 1940 after high school he walked away from it. “I transferred to William & Mary and was going to get an engineering degree, but my dad talked me into taking economics and business courses,” he recalls. Eventually, he earned a business degree and served in the Navy from 1943 until 1946. He made his way to Florida, where he ran a building supply store.
“I wanted to open up a supply store in Norfolk but my dad didn’t think that was a good idea,” says Doumar, now 91. “In those days, you more or less tended to be in a family situation” – he moved back and continued with the family business. He learned everything from running the soda fountain to working the cash register, but it was the soda fountain he enjoyed most. And though he has long since sold the company to his son and son-in-law, Thad Doumar and Randy Windley, he still goes into work every morning. That work ethic he attributes to his father, who’d never close as long as there was a customer: “He would go home in the afternoons and sleep from 3 to 5 and then go back in to work.”
And while Doumar says he has never been much of a cook, he effortlessly spouts off the cone batter recipe and another for a creamy treat, the orange freeze. One scoop of orange sherbet, one scoop of vanilla ice cream and 6 ounces of carbonated water forms a thick concoction that, according to Doumar, cures upset stomachs and hangovers – though he has only been told about the hangover bit.
Standing at the cone maker, Al Doumar smiles as he shapes a cone with a wooden form. He’s on No. 64. He motions to a pair of young men sitting in a booth and enjoying a milkshake at 10 a.m. “Any time,” he says, “is a good time for an ice cream or a shake.”