JOHN LEO was born Giovanni Leo in Bari, Italy on April 26, 1896 and came to America in 1913. By 1917 he had set up residence at 927 South  and was living with his wife Lucy and one child. John Leo was, according to his draft card, employed by a firm located "near Dagsboro, Delaware".

The 1924 City Directory states that he was living with wife Lucy at 927 South 3rd Street and working as a chauffer (truck driver), while the 1929 Camden City Directory shows that he was working as a huckster and that the Leo's then lived at 948 South 3rd Street.  By April of 1930 the family home had relocated to 1113 South 3rd Street. John Leo was, according to the Federal Census taken in April of that year, driving a truck for a hauling business. The Leo family by then included three children, Sophie, Michael, and Rocco Leo. 

It is likely that by this time or shortly afterwards that John and Lucy Leo established "Leo's Manufacturing Company" and started producing "Leo's Famous Yum-Yum". Next door at 1111 South 3rd lived Louis and Sophie Cirulli, who operated a furniture store there as well. Eventually the Yum Yum business occupied both buildings

Leo's Famous Yum-Yum was sold to street vendors in metal Twenty-quart cans packed in wooden barrels surrounded by ice and salt. Yum-Yum was delivered on a daily basis to the various vendors. The dessert lasted in ice for about fourteen hours. By the 1950's, Leo's Famous Yum-Yum had become the leading frozen dessert treat not only in Camden, New Jersey (120,000 population at the time) but in all of South Jersey. As with many successful products, competitors had sprung up over the years. None of them could copy the smooth texture and creamy taste of Yum-Yum. Most of the competitors settled for an ordinary water ice product or what is commonly referred to as an "Italian Ice."

Last a resident of Marlton NJ, John Leo passed away in October of 1980. In that year, Rick Cirelli, the grandson of Giovanni Leo and his wife Cheryl stepped up to continue the tradition. Using the family's original recipes, Leo's Ice Cream Company Inc. has continued to expand. Leo's now has stores in Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey.

World War I Draft Card
Click on Image to Enlarge

Camden Courier-Post * December 25, 2003

Yum Yum ice owners keep busy in winter


Do what you love. Never compromise. Take it slow and steady.

It's the recipe for a successful business and a successful life, according to Rick and Cheryl Cirelli, owners of Leo's Ice Cream Company in Medford.

"You can't buy happiness. You have to create it for yourself," Cheryl Cirelli, 44, said as the couple of nearly 30-years held hands and recalled the evolution of their other most cherished recipe - for Yum Yum water ice.

Rick Cirelli's maternal grandfather, Giovanni "John" Leo, began making his own brand of sherbet in his Camden back yard in 1913. In the 1950s, Yum Yum was the leading frozen dessert sold in South Jersey and it remained a popular treat until Leo's retirement in the early 1970s.

Richer in texture than water ice, Yum Yum is more akin to the true Italian gelati that John Leo knew and enjoyed in his hometown of Bari, Italy.

"It's not an icy-ice. It's creamier," said Cheryl Cirelli. "The ingredients are very expensive as far as this kind of business goes. That's why we know our customers appreciate quality. So many of them are really devoted to us and keep coming back."

The couple resurrected the business as wholesalers in 1980, distributing Yum Yum and homemade ice cream to a few ice cream trucks in Haddon Township. The Cirelli's business has always turned a profit.

"It hasn't really been exponential, but business has never gone backwards," said Rick Cirelli, 49.

The business has grown steadily and now includes a storefront in Medford on Tomlinson Mill Road,contracts for several municipalities' pool and park concession stands, several area baseball leagues and retail locations such as Johnson's Farm in Medford. They also supply Yum Yum to a few local harvest festivals and several shore vendors. Four franchises have also sprung up and there are plans for a fifth.

Two Leo's franchises are in Florida and Georgia, both owned and operated by former South Jersey residents who wanted to take the taste of Yum Yum where it is warm year-round. Here in Jersey, the colder months are when the Cirellis close the Medford storefront and focus on expanding their operations.

"Winter is the only time you can really work on the franchises. Summer is just too busy," Rick Cirelli said.

By February of each year, the Cirellis try to have any new franchisees trained, equipped and set up for the coming season. They sell them the basic mix for Yum Yum, but other than that, they are free to use any supplier, Cheryl Cirelli said.

Rick Cirelli, a teacher at Veteran's Memorial Middle School in Camden, says his goal to ease out of the retail business and to grow the number of franchises.

"We're still in the beginning stages. It doesn't sound like much, but 10 franchises over the next five years (when he plans to retire from teaching) would be great. I am laying the groundwork for when I get older and want to work less," he said.

The Cirellis' patience might pay off big, though: A national retail chain has expressed interest in carrying Yum Yum. The couple is hesitant to elaborate and Rick Cirelli said the deal could be a "huge home run," or a "big dud."

Either way, the Cirellis will be content.

"You just have to put out a good product. We never cut corners," Rick Cirelli said. "You can always make more money, but it's really all about enjoying life and doing good things along the way. I still get a kick out of making a banana split.".