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  • Writer's pictureIsabel Refford

The History of Del's Lemonade: A Refreshing Tale of Family, Community, and Success

Del's Lemonade, a Rhode Island icon, is more than just a drink; it's a symbol of summer memories
and local pride. From its humble beginnings as a family recipe in 1840s Italy to beloved beverage across 20 states, Del's commitment to community have won hearts for generations.

Want to learn more? Read the full story below to discover Del's journey from pushcarts to iconic trucks, their refreshing flavors, and their dedication to bringing people together.

Managing to capture the taste of summer in a single treat, Del's frozen lemonade has dethroned all contenders (except coffee milk, of course) to become the most beloved beverage of Rhode Island. But how did a little recipe from 1840s Italy blossom into one of the state’s biggest brands? It's a story of hometown love and resilience. Let’s dig in!

Does The Lemon Fall Far from the Tree?

For Del's, the answer is a refreshing "no." The recipe is a family heirloom, passed down from great grandfather DeLucia who, in the 1840s, created a simple yet delightful concoction of shaved ice, lemon juice, and sugar. Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century, and Franco DeLucia brings this family tradition across the Atlantic to Cranston, Rhode Island.

By 1955, the DeLucia family was all in on Del's success. The refreshing treat had become a local favorite, prompting the establishment of brick-and-mortar stores across Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts. Community is the heart of Rhode Island, and Del's embraced this spirit perfectly. You’d be hard-pressed to go on a Rhode Island adventure without spotting the iconic big yellow lemon, a symbol of summer, family, and refreshing local pride. How does a simple lemonade business stand out from other big beverage brands? They take this show on the road.

Del's on Wheels

Lemonade stands are a dime a dozen, but a lemonade truck? That’s something different.

In its inception, Del’s was sold exclusively out of pushcarts. That was until the DeLucia family saw an opportunity. Enter the iconic Del’s trucks. Using the truck, they brought the frozen treat directly to Rhode Islanders. Wherever people tended to hang out: beaches, parks, name it, the Del's truck was there. Finding their place in the summer memories of countless children and adults, it quickly became impossible to not get excited at the sight of the famous truck.

By bringing their product directly to consumers, Del’s trucks solidified the brand as a summer staple. Throughout the years, the hunt for a Del's truck or pop-up stand has become part of the summer experience in Rhode Island, reliably appearing on street corners, beaches, and parks. Del's understands the power of nostalgia, consistently transporting customers to summers past with every sip.

Where Del's really shines is their ability to retain old-fashioned charm while not getting stuck in the past. Del's cleverly modernizes specific aspects to cater to audiences evolving tastes. They maintain the iconic visuals while embracing modern best practices on social media, ensuring they feel timelessly recognizable yet fresh. Since the boom of socials, Del’s has maintained a consistent presence online as much as they have maintained a physical presence in local hot spots.  

Nostalgia is Timeless (and in Times Square)

There’s just something about the lemonade that makes it extremely nostalgic for so many. Whether it’s the tiny pieces of lemon rind in it (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) or the comforting brand imagery that's been consistent since day 1, Del’s is synonymous with summer. At its core, Del’s is a labor of love. Usually, when a new Del’s truck pops up, there's a champion of the brand behind it.

This is the case with Del’s NYC, which was created in 2013 by Portsmouth native Cam Crockford. Bringing lemons to the Big Apple, Cam outfitted a van and began serving authentic Del’s Lemonade. Overnight, social media accounts spread the word, and New Yorkers discovered a taste of summer right in their busy city. Using Instagram and Twitter to spread the word about the truck’s location and hours, the Ocean State staple quickly found an audience among New Yorkers.

A finalist for the Vendy Awards in his first year, the truck grew a New York following that craved a slice of that sweet nostalgia. Crockford explains that the best part of the job is seeing the joy on former Rhode Islander’s faces when they’re flooded with happy summer memories. Sometimes, a blast from the past is exactly what you need.

Outside of the iconic vans, Del’s can be found at events of all sizes. Wiggling their way into even more memories, the brand has made it easy to rent out pushcarts so that you can enjoy the treat wherever you’d like. Renting a pushcart allows you to choose flavors and sizes, to tailor the experience to your preferences. Del’s recognizes the growing importance of delivering a product that is personalized to the audience, allowing for customization while ensuring the experience stays comfortably familiar. 

From Trucks to Timelines: Adapting Strategies for a New Era

Time and time again, we’ve seen companies resist change and get left behind. Del’s Lemonade doesn’t get stuck in this trap, skillfully modernizing specific aspects of their marketing strategy while allowing the old-school nostalgia to carry the brand through generations. While the brand’s look overall has stayed consistent throughout most of history, Del’s has developed a strong social media presence that has evolved with audiences.

Reposting pictures of local celebrities, like Miss Rhode Island, the brand shows its widespread popularity while also highlighting people within the Rhode Island community. Taking a scroll through any of Del’s social media pages, you’ll find photos of fans of all ages repping Del’s merchandise or holding the slush cup. Scattered amongst posts of summertime bliss are people enjoying Del’s on big days (like THE BIG DAY), renting trucks for weddings and engagement parties. Through their social presence, the brand conveys that it’s more than just a drink; it’s a celebration of the memories people create with it.

While Del's may have started as a local favorite quenching thirst on Rhode Island streets, its refreshing appeal transcends state lines. Today, Del’s can be found in over 20 states, offering a taste of summer to a wider audience. Despite this growing national presence, Del's commitment to community remains. This involves sourcing ingredients from local farms and creating a network of regional suppliers. Even their marketing retains a local feel, featuring familiar landmarks and community events in their advertising. This dedication to community carried over perfectly when it was time to venture out into the vast world of alcoholic drinks.  

Since the mid 2010s, Del’s and Narragansett Beer, fellow Rhode Island icons with a shared sense of local pride, have been fast friends. Together, they've released products that showcase what the two brands do best. Releasing to wild success, the partnership worked to create an array of drinks in different flavors. For most Rhode Islanders, the most important thing is that it tastes like home.

More Than a Drink

Del’s lemonade has transcended its humble beginnings as a family recipe to become a symbol of small-town pride for thousands across New England. The unbeatable recipe paired with strategically modernizing aspects of the business has allowed them to connect with generations of customers. The iconic Del's trucks have become rolling ambassadors, spreading the refreshing taste of summer and a touch of Rhode Island pride across the country. Beyond their national reach, Del's fosters a strong sense of community through local partnerships and celebrations.

A testament to hard work, local pride, and great branding, Del’s Lemonade continues to refresh generations of people, reminding them to stop at the sign of the lemon.

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