Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gus Kalaris, owner of beloved North Side institution Gus & Yiayia's ice ball cart, dies at 92

An older man in a green sweater stands near a miniature railroad display.
Rebecca Reese
90.5 WESA
Gus Kalaris, the beloved North Side vendor, is shown at the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village. A tiny model of Gus & Yiayia’s ice ball cart was added to the exhibit in 2021.

Gus Kalaris, the Pittsburgh icon who ran Gus and Yiayia's ice ball cart on the North Side for more than 70 years, has died.

Kalaris took over the cart from his father in 1951, and it sold flavored ice balls, popcorn and peanuts in Allegheny Commons Park every summer since. Kalaris' death was noted Saturday in a social media post by the City of Pittsburgh. He was 92.

"Without a doubt, Gus touched the hearts and lives of Pittsburghers and tourists who flocked to the cart each year," Mayor Ed Gainey said in his own social media post. "May his memory live on, providing peace to all who knew and loved him."

Kalaris' cart was well enough known that in 2021, a toy-sized version was included in the Carnegie Science Center's Miniature Railroad and Village. In interviews with WESA, he said his father began selling popcorn, peanuts, and flavored ice balls to neighbors in 1934, and he began working with his father when he was 8.

After Gus Kalaris took over the business, he built two versions of the cart — one as a high school woodshop project and later a second cart that he'd used since 1983. He painted the reference to Yiayia — “grandmother” in Greek — on the cart, first for his mother and later for his late wife, Stella, who died in 2016.

Kalaris owned and operated the ice ball cart on the North Side for 60 years. His father started the business in 1934.
Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Kalaris owned and operated the ice ball cart on the North Side for 60 years. His father started the business in 1934.

For decades, the couple and the ice ball cart lived up to the slogan painted on its side: "On the North Side since your dad was a lad," becoming an iconic orange fixture along West Ohio Street in the park. In an interview in 2021, Kalaris said he was glad to be memorialized in the Science Center display.

“It's like getting the Academy Award or the Lombardi Trophy, you know, that's the top,” he said then. “Who honors an ice ball person vending on the street today, you know?”

Visitation for Kalaris is scheduled for 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 971 Beech Ave., North Side, where a Trisagion prayer service will be conducted at 6 p.m.

His funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 985 Providence Blvd., McCandless.

Updated: June 30, 2024 at 4:16 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include visitation and funeral information, and a comment from Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey.
Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: