|Posted by Lilly on November 1, 2016 at 6:30 AM|
Inventive Uses of Coolers
As I've explained in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, coolers truly are a viable and affordable way to start an Italian Ice business. And there are many vendors using them as alternatives to carts. But the coolers mentioned in earlier articles do have their limits. The insulated walls on those coolers are only about an inch thick, sometimes less. The thickness of the plastic and insulation will determine how well a cooler will keep items cold, and in our case, frozen. Yes, there are tricks to lengthening cooling time, like adding dry ice or styrofoam. But what do you do when you get an event that lasts all day, say 8 hours. One workaround I've used is storing backup Italian Ice in separate coolers under the serving tables, with reuseable cold packs inside. Depending on the event, I store between two to four more tubs of Italian Ice ready to replenish the main serving coolers as we sell out of flavors. Since these backup coolers are not opened until that ice is needed, the Italian Ice stays utterly solid for many, many hours. If even more cooling time is needed, they can be wrapped with freezer blankets. But ultimately over time, if longer events become a vendor's norm, it may make more sense to upgrade to what I call dream coolers.
Industrial Grade Coolers
Built like mini non-refrigerated carts, rugged, upgraded coolers have insulation and wall depths that far surpass simple marine coolers and stand in a class - and price range - of their own. Sporting two to three inches of insulation, these coolers are solid! And that dense insulation sits between even denser rotomolded plastic formed in one seamless piece. The plastic walls are then filled with up to three full inches of pressure-injected commercial grade polyurethane foam in the walls and lid, about the same wall thickness as a stainless steel cart! We're talking about at least triple thermal insulation capacity than regular marine coolers!
Yeti Cooler Construction Cross Section
Coupled with freezer-like gaskets on the lid, you can consider them little portable freezers that don't require electricity. They have locks to keep contents safe and some are even designed and tested to handle the likes of a grizzly bear.
They can be made even cooler, if it's possible, by slapping on your own custom logo, which a few cooler manufacturers offer.
As to which size is right for your tubs, always look at the interior dimensions of a cooler and figure out how many Italian Ice tubs can fit inside. Here's a little graphic I made using Yeti cooler dimensions to give you an idea. My 2.5 gallon Italian Ice buckets are 10.25 inches tall and 9 inches around at the top, where it's widest.
Yeti Coolers Dimensions Chart
Coolers in a Food Truck?
So why do I call these my dream coolers? Well, let me share with you my vision. I have been called to attend events where they really preferred a truck to show up. It lends a trendy vibe to any event these days, with the popularity of the food truck craze. So trucks are more in demand and that's expected to continue. With a truck, I could expand sales into parks and neighborhoods the same way your local ice cream truck vendor does every summer afternoon. It would get me in and out of events easily, with no set up and take down. It shelters me from rain and eliminates hassles on a windy day. And it would provide two huge sides of billboard space for advertising my business.
Now, most mobile food truck vendors permanently install freezers into their trucks. Or they simply set a residential chest freezer inside, with no wheels. And this limits the ability to set up as a booth if an event calls for it, such as in a school courtyard or a convention hall. And frankly, sometimes there are events where it's nice to be "in the crowd", close to the customers, especially kids - they love to see the operation and the colorful flavors closeup. It creates this sort of feeding frenzy, whereas a truck window blocks that off - though, I agree, this can be a good thing too sometimes. So my thinking is, if I can lasso all the events, inside a building or outside in a booth or in a truck, then that stretches my dollars and makes smarter business sense, to me. Portable coolers and a portable sink with wheels allow me to load and unload my truck to use my equipment in all possible ways.
High end coolers, especially inside a truck, will hold Italian Ice for far longer than I would need, without heavy refrigeration equipment and no mechanical parts or compressors to fix when they break down. And I can forget all about needing a generator to run the freezers, along with the gas and the space that would eat up. I figure with three of these coolers, I can serve nine flavors of Italian Ice at once for about the same cost as a standard Italian Ice cart, which allows a vendor to offer only four flavors. Using coolers instead of freezers also conveniently eliminates expensive labor and materials costs of building a custom food truck. I can buy any high roof vehicle, not requiring any additional work except maybe adding D-rings to keep the coolers from shifting while driving, and use my saved money toward some spectacular vehicle graphics.
Industrial Cooler Brands
These coolers are currently trending, and the following brands are the heavy hitters right now. Yeti is probably the most well known today, but I expect lots of new competition to jump on this bandwagon after seeing Yeti's incredible success.
So, do you think I'm crazy? Has the idea of these coolers, or using coolers in general, piqued your interest or opened up a new possibility for you? Let me know in the comments. And look for the next article in this series where I'll go over how to use coolers to sell Italian Ice under varying conditions, tips, tricks and lots of things learned over the years.