To go with the newly shortened name, Marjorie Page Prusia, co-owner of Page’s and the fourth generation of the Page family to run the establishment, bought a new neon sign to replace one she estimates was 40 years old.
Prusia and her husband Jared bought the family business from her parents in March 2020. Now in their third season owning Page’s, they have been making subtle improvements to complement the store’s existing strengths. In previous seasons, they added an oat-based, non-dairy soft serve option and the ability to take credit card payments. This season, a bigger grill and new ovens have dramatically increased their hot food production.
Pittsburgh City Paper decided to visit this institution to see what makes it tick, and what kinds of improvements customers can expect as it enters its 71st season.
“We need new blood,” says Chuck Page, Marjorie’s father and the store’s previous owner, during a conversation by the coolers in the back of the restaurant. Although Page no longer owns the place, he still comes in a few days a week to help out, and Margie and Jared say his help is invaluable.
“You kind of get used to dodging people,” says Prusia.
In a slim kitchen area spanning approximately one third of Page’s one-story building, they have a shaved ice machine, two soft serve machines, a milkshake machine, two Arctic Storm machines, a blender, a slush machine, and at least one machine to warm up dips for soft serve cones.
“There’s always one breaking, too,” Prusia jokes of the appliances, like the one that broke on them on March 9, this season’s opening day.
An older woman, a regular customer named Ms. Deb, approaches the window.
“This is the best place in town and nobody leaves here unhappy,” she says. “It’s a community institution.”
When asked what she likes to order, she replies, “I have my own button.”
Prusia clarifies that Ms. Deb stops by so often it was more convenient to make her regular order — chocolate ice cream with extra peanut butter, extra pecans, and sometimes a cookie — its own selection on Page’s point-of-sale system. According to the system, Ms. Deb visited Page’s about 175 times last season.
Charles Alexander Page, Page’s great-grandfather, opened Page Dairy Mart in 1951 on land his great-great grandfather purchased in 1916. According to Page and Prusia, Charles was in Florida when he first encountered soft serve. He sensed it was going to be the next big thing, so he brought it back with him to Pittsburgh. He was right. (Similarly, Page tells me, “We were the first in the ‘60s to have slush.”)
Page’s has been a local staple ever since it opened. Today, they serve a mind-boggling array of dessert options, including about two dozen different soft serve flavors in addition to the classic vanilla, chocolate, and twist options. There are also sundaes made with warm baked goods, milkshakes, snow cones, and Arctic Swirls, plus some tasty savory options, including a steak sandwich.
If the line seems long, people, including the owners and Yelp! reviewers, say it goes fast. If the parking lot seems full, Page’s rents the fenced parking lot behind theirs for overflow. It’s worth the wait and the brief game of automotive Tetris.
Although both grew up working at Page’s, neither Prusia nor her father Page set out to own their family’s ice cream shop.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Page, who was the third generation of Pages to own and operate the store, tells me. He says he reluctantly decided to work at Page’s after graduating from Robert Morris University in 1981 and being unable to find another job in the area.
“There were no jobs in Pittsburgh,” he tells me, “and I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.” Ultimately, though, he says, “It grows on you, and it’s nice to have success.”
“I would come down with my dad in the evenings when I was like a little kid, like 12 years old, help him clean and build stuff. I started waiting on customers probably when I was 14. I'm almost 30, so I’ve been doing it for a while,” Prusia says.
She says she went to school for nursing and worked in a hospital for a while before her father asked her to work at Page’s.
Since she and her husband bought the business, Prusia says,“We’ve experienced growth every year.”
On the weekends, they’re likely to be busy all day, so if you want to miss the rush, Prusia recommends visiting weekdays before 7 p.m.
Page's. 4112 Carson St., South Side. pagedairymart.net