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A Cooler World: Selling Italian Ice a Different Way, Pt.1

Posted by Lilly on October 17, 2016 at 3:55 PM

Rita's Serving Italian Ice at Baseball Field


On this site, it's common knowledge that I don't always do things traditionally.  I like to experiment - new products, new methods, new ideas.  In one instance, I stumbled onto a different and much cheaper and effective method for selling Italian Ice that works for me.  Maybe it will work for you.  In my first year, I found myself at a park with my kids, and a local Rita's franchise operation had a spot with a table where they were selling Italian Ice.  Rita's, if you don't know, is the largest franchise of Italian Ice, and there's a good chance you will encounter one soon if you haven't yet.  What struck me as odd was that they weren't using carts.  In fact, even odder they weren't using some solidly constructed marine grade coolers!  They were using beverage coolers!  You know, the round orange coolers that you associate with little league games and Gatorade. 


Italian Ice Served from Beverage Coolers at Event


Rita's Italian Ice Beverage Coolers


For much of that year, I had been grappling with how I was going to take my new, custom-made very heavy stainless steel cart back and forth to events.  When I saw the Rita's setup and those simple coolers which weren't even designed to keep products frozen, my mind went crazy!  How could these work, I wondered?  So I immediately went and bought one, slightly different, to test it out.  Mine had an extendable handle and wheels, like luggage, which I knew would be so much easier to roll around than carrying heavy coolers with Italian Ice.  I sacrificed one entire, unused tub of mango ice (a very soft and quick melter), giving it to my daughter for her all-day birthday party with her friends at a pool, followed by a sleepover.  She was given strict instructions to report how the ice performed.  Well, long story short, the ice stayed solid in 90 degree heat from 4pm until 8pm at the pool, still holding up perfectly at midnight when she said her friends raided it again.  It was then I had a mental shift and began looking into the feasibility of using coolers to sell my ice.  Since then, four years later, it is how I sell ice exclusively, relegating my poor unused cart to a corner of my driveway (yes, it bothers me, but...).  I was able to buy a bunch of coolers affordably and fit them all inside my SUV, no problem, along with all the accessories - tent, cups, spoons, menu boards and banners.  Easy peasy.  And now there's no looking back. 


Yes, there are a lot of variables to making it work on hot days.  But I've managed to conquer those problems and handled with ease the hottest days this year and last.  Granted, the events I attend are very busy with fast sales, so it helps.  However, packaged right, the ice handled beautifully my few very hot and slow events too.  I'll share with you those variables in a subsequent article.  In this series I'll be going over this quick, easy alternative method to run an Italian Ice business and breaking out all your options, pros/cons and whys.  For this Part I, I'll provide answers to the main question I get asked over and over.  What coolers do I use?


Single Tub Beverage Cooler

I still use the little rolling Igloo beverage cooler, and it has held up unbelievably well all these years, considering its price and that we throw it around a lot.  It has not let me down and just won't quit!  I have three of these guys.  I can vouch that it holds one round 2.5 gallon tub of Italian Ice perfectly.  Uses include ice deliveries to homes and schools, storing back up ice for events, and it even doubles as a seat when needed!


Great alternatives include the same orange Igloo beverage coolers that Rita's uses, and a nicer looking  Coleman, available in blue, orange and red. 

 

Rolling Cooler Carts

For nicer and shorter events, I have a set of 77 qt. rolling coolers by Rio Brands, which hold three tubs of Italian Ice each, very comfortably with the lid closing properly.  Using two of these coolers at events, I can offer customers six flavors.  These coolers have also stood up to heavy use, for the most part.  But, with age the white plastic inside has developed a few cracks where the lid repeatedly slams onto it as we open and close it.  It's obviously not designed as a commercial Italian Ice serving station.  However, I found a white epoxy that, when applied to the cracks, filled them and stopped further damage and is hardly noticeable.  So maybe I'll get another four years of use out of them.  A newer but pricey version has flip-up stainless shelves on the side, which essentially converts it into a cart with a place to hold cups and spoons, plus a lower shelf for more supplies.  Here are a few models of the cooler carts - the third photo being my actual ice in my actual cooler (I have two black ones and two silver ones):



 

The benefits to using rolling cooler carts is that they are self-contained units.  And if you use one that has a shelf below, you gain so much storage space for extra cups, spoons, napkins and even just a place to put your own drinks, phone, etc.  The ease of rolling them around have made them indispensable when I've taken them to events where I had to move them to their setup location farther away from the parking lot.  I've attended a number of events that were inside or required access through a building, and these were perfect.  I load the top of them with additional "stuff" and just push or pull them along.  Also, the coolers detach from their bases, and the base legs break down further, making this one efficient unit for saving space.  This also allows the coolers to be used on tables by themselves. 


Follow along in Part II, where I will discuss options in coolers that hold cold temperatures longer.  I'll share exactly which units I use and give my advice for what to look for when shopping.  If you're in the market, now is the perfect time to buy.  The end of the summer season provides excellent sales and discounts on these units, so stock up!


Categories: Equipment & Supplies, Pushcarts, Getting Started

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4 Comments

Reply Bernie
3:34 PM on October 19, 2016 
And the health department? What about your sink and do you have thermometers in each one?
Reply Lilly
8:20 PM on October 19, 2016 
I do have instant read thermometers, the kind you'd stick into the ice to check the temp The HD requested instant reads over ambient types (which I also have) for initial permit submission but there has never been a need to use them, for obvious reasons. The few times ice melted too much, I just took it off the menu and stopped serving it.
Reply TheIceKing
3:39 PM on November 2, 2016 
The things with Ritas is they dont put a can of Italian Ice into the "Gatorade" cooler, they make the Ice straight into the cooler and then put the cooler in the freezer. Therefore there is no can, but just loose Italian Ice in the cooler. Interesting way of doing it, but I dont believe some Health Departments are going to like the idea of reusing coolers with the chance of no proper washing and sanitizing.
Reply Lilly
7:31 AM on November 10, 2016 
I would have to agree with you, TheIceKing! Putting the Italian Ice directly into the beverage coolers would make for more sanitation requirements with some Health Departments. But dropping 2.5 gallon buckets in is a perfect solution. I can't say that I actually went up close and looked inside Rita's beverage coolers. Now I'd be very curious to do so. I've also learned, from a discussion with a Health Dept. supervisor, that they just can't be at all events at all times, so vendors get away with quite a lot as a result.


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