Storied Disappearing Dumont Donkey Is Hero Mascot At Builder's New Ice Cream Shop

It was 2017 and Matt Dagistanli was in the process of building the structure that stands today at 65 W. Madison Avenue in Dumont, when his donkey went missing.

Matt Dagistanli has opened Dumbo Ice Cream, a tribute to his donkey, in Dumont.

Matt Dagistanli has opened Dumbo Ice Cream, a tribute to his donkey, in Dumont.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Inside Dumbo Ice Cream.

Inside Dumbo Ice Cream.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Matt Dagistanli, of Dumbo Ice Cream.

Matt Dagistanli, of Dumbo Ice Cream.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Nedime Perez at Dumbo Ice Cream.

Nedime Perez at Dumbo Ice Cream.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

He wasn't a real donkey, of course, but a statue that Dagistanli and his former business partner had affectionately called Dumbo.

Dagistanli grew quite fond of Dumbo, and wasn't ready to get rid of him at the turn of his career change.

"I didn’t want to sell it or throw it away, so I took it home," said Dagistanli, 63, of Rutherford. "My wife said, 'You need to take this away.'"

Dagistanli had nowhere to keep Dumbo except for his construction site. Apparently, locals got word of Dumbo's new home, because one day, Dagistanli showed up to work, and Dumbo had disappeared.

"I came and I couldn't find the statue," Dagistanli said. "Someone told me it was famous, it was in the paper."

A news report by is what led Dagistanli to Dumbo, who he found wearing a Stetson hat and a pink lei, over at the lawn of the local CVS.

"When I went to pick him up even the police questioned me," Dagistanli said. "I told them it's my donkey."

Dagistanli eventually found a safer hiding spot for his beloved Dumbo. Now, Dagistanli says, Dumbo is the face of the ice cream shop he was building in the years that the statue was repeatedly taken from him.

"Everything has a reason," Dagistanli said. "And now it became our logo, and our hero."

Dagistanli moved from Turkey to the United States in 1997 when he was 37 years old, with his daughter and his wife. He says his life in Turkey was excellent, but he got citizenship through the lottery, and saw life in America as an opportunity for a better education for his kids.

Dagistanli, who later welcomed two boys into his family, worked in hospitality in New York City before transitioning into building in 2007. Ten years into his career, he bought the mixed-used property at 65 W. Madison Ave., which at the time was home to a popular ice cream shop.

Dagistanli demolished the building, then built it back up.

Dumbo, in his secret hiding spot, watched it all.

Dagistanli was looking for a new tenant once his new building was complete, when he decided to open an ice cream shop if his own, to continue the building's ice cream shop history, he said.

"We thought it would be a good gathering spot for people in town to spend some time outside, sit and enjoy the ice cream," Dagistanli said.

When Daily Voice arrived Thursday, June 13, a group of high schoolers were sitting at the colorful tables outside, doing just that.

Dumbo the Donkey was nowhere in sight.

Dumbo Ice Cream offers a wide array of gelato from a Paterson purveyor and hard ice cream, some of the best quality with the least amount of air around, Dagistanli said. The shop has the feel of an old school ice cream parlor with a modern twist, hints of hot pink and, of course, Dumbo's smiling face.

Dumbo Ice Cream will make banana splits,  shakes, bubble waffle cones, or pile any of your favorite flavors into a cup topped with a wafer cookie.

"The first couple weeks were very busy," Dagistanli said. "Out of curiosity, everybody came once. And now it’s very consistent, in a positive way."

Dagistanli says owning an ice cream shop is unlike anything he's ever done, but he's happy.

"It's very social," he said. "I can talk to people and get to know them. We hire local students — it's a good opportunity to make some income."

Dagistanli is still putting the finishing touches on his ice cream shop, with plans to bring an awning and umbrellas to the patio, and add coffee to the menu.

Eventually, Dagistanli wants to bring Dumbo the Donkey to the patio, but that won't happen until he can trust that locals won't steal him again.

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