Salvadore Iacono, East Hampton’s affable purveyor of poultry, whose cheerful presence and acclaimed free-range chickens brought celebrity to his farm and shop on Long Lane, died on Wednesday, April 30.
His wife, Eileen, said that injuries from a fall earlier in the month had required surgery and that until a precipitous decline and a return to Southampton Hospital, where he died, he had seemed on the mend. He had celebrated his 79th birthday on April 5.
Mr. Iacono was a lifelong resident of East Hampton, where he was born, and graduate of East Hampton High School. His father, a vegetable farmer, “was not much for poultry,” according to Eileen Iacono, a Sag Harbor native who married her husband in 1955, “but he helped his son out.” Sal’s idea, she said, was to create year-round business at the farm, where the income from vegetables tended to be seasonal.
A few years after their marriage, Mrs. Iacono began spending her days alongside her husband at Iacono Farm, taking charge of the laying hens and their considerable output of brown and white eggs.
In East Hampton, where the traces of the rural past are prized, the Iacono farm is a cherished survivor. Sal Iacono was the friendly face of an agricultural enterprise with a history spanning more than 50 years. Customers who came for the famously flavorful free-range chickens and farm-fresh eggs were seduced by the shop and the farmer, a man who treated locals, celebrities, kids and stars to the same good-natured jokes and the same Sixties and earlier tunes he was always listening to in the shop, sometimes with vocal accompaniment.
Over the years, as their numbers increased, regulars like New York Times columnist Florence Fabricant learned to take precautions if they planned on serving chicken over the weekend.
“You had to reserve in advance,” she said. “He ran out.”
Ms. Fabricant, whose word on food is gospel to Times readers, is not alone among tastemakers whose high regard for the Iacono approach to raising chickens and treating customers made the shop—and the man behind the counter—media favorites. Ina Garten, whose Barefoot Contessa cookbooks are eagerly awaited by “eat local” aficionados, has sung the praises of Iacono capons in the fall and chickens any time of the year.
Feature-writers have rhapsodized over the beauty of the eggs and delighted at the sight of chickens roaming freely behind the shop. But it is also “the homey warmth of the place,” suggested Ms. Fabricant, that has always made a visit to Iacono Farm something more than a commercial transaction. It has a welcoming atmosphere that Sal Iacono did much to create with the corny jokes and schmaltzy music his customers never seemed to tire of.
As the pace of life in the Hamptons quickened in recent years, the demands of the culinarily obsessed in a hurry might have tried the patience of a less generous soul. Yet Mr. Iacono maintained a reputation for unflappable geniality, though he wasn’t above pulling a gullible New Yorker’s leg. He once claimed in an interview that city people would believe anything he told them and gave an example. He said that whenever a New Yorker asked him what a pullet egg was, he liked to explain that pullets—young, small hens, actually—were the eggs he had to pull out of the hen.
If preparing as many as 1,000 chickens on a busy summer weekend was hard work—even for someone whose skills with a knife was admired by surgeons—it was work that Mr. Iacono was willing to do. Time off was apparently something he believed might be necessary for others but not for himself and he was at his post six and a half days a week. “Years ago, it was all day, every day,” said Mrs. Iacono. “Then we said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” On Sunday afternoons they would “take a ride with the kids or go to the beach,” she said. “Nothing special.”
“We didn’t travel,” she said. “With laying hens, you have to be there. You can’t just close the door. The chickens have to be fed. The eggs have to be gathered. Farming is farming. Some people don’t understand that.”
That Iacono Farm will remain a family business seems assured. The Iaconos’ son Anthony has been playing a prominent role at the farm for some time and Eileen Iacono indicated that she intends to continue working as before.
“We’re still here,” she said. “We’ll try to do the best we can.”
She said she has been touched by the outpouring of sympathy and affection she has received from a community in which her husband will be sorely missed.
“Everybody loved his jokes,” she said. “Everybody loved his music.”
In addition to his wife, Eileen, and his son, Anthony, Mr. Iacono is survived by two daughters, Catherine Tomasso of Cranston, Rhode Island, and Suzanne Cassell of Sagaponack; two sisters, Josephine Iacono of East Hampton and Mary Iacono of Virginia; and eight grandchildren. He was predeceased by his siblings Jennie Lubrozzi, John Iacono and Angeline Iacono.
A funeral was held at Yardley and Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton on Monday, May 5, followed by interment at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the East Hampton Fire Department or the East Hampton Ambulance.