On a bright sunny Saturday morning in a booth on the Historic Downtown Liberty Square, the Lanio family shuffles through dozens of orders. It is hard to keep up. So many people want a taste of the freshly squeezed organic lemonade in four flavors — classic, honey, coconut and strawberry — that Mom (Jenn) and Dad (Craig) are diligently squeezing, shaking and swirling.
Two blond boys sit at the front table working customer service and sharpening their math skills.
Eight-year-old Owen shouts, “Can we make change for a $50?” Six-year-old Elliot sits by his side handing out numbers for waiting customers.
The booth’s cheery banners and mod chalkboard sign may look like any of the businesses open for the weekly farmers market, but their story is unique. “Lemon Bomb” is basically one kid’s dream of a lemonade stand — gone real world.
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Craig and Jenn Lanio found themselves with a son who just kept trying to find ways to make money. Every year, Owen would beg to set up a lemonade stand, or any kind of stand out front. He would sit on the curb hoping to win customers with a doomed cul-de-sac venture, no foot traffic and only the neighbors to bother.
They had tried sports, but Owen was not really interested. He is more of a businessman at heart.
“This is Owen’s sport for him. We did do sports in the past, but he prefers to not do that,” Craig said. “He’s always been an entrepreneur.”
In the middle of winter, during some father-son time on the way to a dentist appointment, Craig and Owen started talking.
“I said, ‘You want to do something, right?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ So, we thought of other things to do as a business, like micro-financing things or vending machines or a paper route. Nothing about it really caught on. So, I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we just try to do a real-world lemonade stand?’ It would be a teaching lab for the children to show them what it’s like to run and have their own business.”
They started planning. The Lanio family, who had lived in Liberty for seven years, was familiar with the farmers market. The group approached the folks who run the market, and they were pleasantly surprised at the positive response they got. No other booth was selling drinks. It seemed like a good fit. They got a temporary health permit, designed a logo, ordered T-shirts and made stickers.
“As much as we could, we sat down with the kids and would tell them what we’re doing, and we went through the process together,” Craig said.
They have been in it together, rolling out of bed every Saturday morning since the last weekend in April at 5 a.m. The family is on the square by 6 a.m. in order to start greeting customers from 7 a.m. to noon. They have been doing that now for 15 weeks. While there have been some rainy and cool mornings, and business gets a little slow on those days, the time usually goes quickly.
“It’s been great. On a typical Saturday, we would sleep in until 9 or 10 and not do anything for half the day,” Jenn Lanio said. “This forces us to get up and actually spend some time together and do stuff. It’s not always easy; a lot of Saturdays I want to be sleeping in, but once we get here it’s fun.”
In June, the family’s goal was simply break even and teach a few life lessons to their sons. Doctors diagnosed the boy’s young cousin, Augie Lanio, with cancer. Owen explains, “Augie has a rare cancer in his left eye and they have to visit New York every month. We’re trying to raise $1,000 for him.”
While the family had always planned to give some of their profits to charity, the fundraising became more personal. All the tips and quarters from every lemonade sold go to help pay expenses for Augie.
The family plans to continue Lemon Bomb until the farmers market ends in October. They also plan to come back to the farmer’s market next year.