Story and photos by Marianne Salza
The turquoise blue anchor and three American flags at the peak of the Banana Boat Ice Cream stand have been iconic symbols on Revere Beach for 40 years, attracting generations of customers and visitors from across the country.
A busy, loving, and entertaining family is how sisters and co-owners, Avri and Amora Schena, described their family business that opened on May 15, 1977, and originally served vanilla and chocolate soft serve ice cream with all the trimmings of summer (and a special, secret ingredient).
“It’s wonderful meeting different people,” said Amora. “We get tourists from different countries. The other night, a couple was here from Georgia and said this was the best ice cream they’d ever had.”
Avri and Amora’s parents, Ann and Tony Schena, along with their mother’s brother, Bobby Fanara, and his wife, Maureen, founded the Banana Boat in April 1977. With help from Ann and Tony’s sons, Anthony and Andrew, and Ann’s brothers, Bobby and Frank, the family constructed the ice cream shop at the corner of 700 Beach St. and Ocean Ave. in six weeks.
“Every family member helped out with their own special talents,” said Avri.
Ann designed the ice cream stand, which was painted blue and white to resemble the ocean. The Banana Boat sign that Maureen designed and created out of plywood withstood the harsh weather of the Atlantic coast for 30 years.
“God bless his soul, my father built it like a fortress,” said Avri, about the structure that lasted through major storms and even the Blizzard of ’78.
The family still uses two original pieces of equipment that were installed when the Banana Boat opened: a milk dispenser, and a refrigerator fountain that stores fruits and syrups.
Initially, the Schena and Fanara Families envisioned the ice cream stand as a temporary business because of rumors that a gambling casino was going to be built in Revere. During the late 1970s, the former attractions of the Wonderland Amusement Park, concession stands, bars, and restaurants were being demolished.
“My mom thought people would like a little ice cream stand. There really wasn’t anything down this end of the Beach,” Avri said. “My mom was a very intelligent woman. With her knowledge and my dad’s hands they made a great pair.”
Four decades later, the Banana Boat, named in reference to the popular banana split, has remained a community favorite. Ann’s Banana Boat, vanilla and chocolate soft serve ice cream sitting on a fresh banana, drizzled with chocolate syrup, strawberries, and pineapples, topped with a swirl of whipped cream, and finished with two bright cherries and an American flag in a boat-shaped bowl, has become world famous.
“We are a patriotic family,” said Avri. “My dad served in WWII, his son, Anthony, was in the Air Force, Bobby Fanara was in the Navy during Vietnam, and my brother’s daughter, Anessa, also went into the Army.”
The ladies attribute their success to the values that their parents taught them: make quality products, maintain excellent service, and treat customers respectfully.
“’Hard work never hurt anybody,’ they’d say,’” recalled Avri. “They said to be kind to people, and be generous to people less fortunate than us.”
Avri and Amora, wearing matching name necklaces, flipped through a thick album of pictures taken at the ice cream stand, and laughed at a white balloon that had been floating around the parking lot. The ladies got a kick out of the images of girls in their gowns posing in front of the Banana Boat.
“Our employees used to come in their prom dresses,” said Amora. “On the night of their prom, they’d come and we’d all take pictures. The girls became family, being here year after year.”
The family has continued to follow the morals instilled by their parents each day. They begin their mornings by stocking up on inventory, washing the blue picnic tables, cleaning the parking lot, and answering ceaseless phone calls from people inquiring about Banana Boat sunscreen, before opening the shutters to serve their renown Banana Boats, frappes, sundaes, frozen yogurt, and banana sticks.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Avri, who loves soft serve hot fudge sundaes with strawberries whipped cream, and cherries. “But it’s a fun job.”