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A Cooler World: Selling Italian Ice a Different Way, Pt. 3

Posted by Lilly on November 1, 2016 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (1)


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. 


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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.

Engel

Grizzly

Igloo Yukon

K2

Orca

Orion

Pelican

Sovaro

Yeti


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.


RELATED ARTICLES

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

A Cooler World: Selling Italian Ice a Different Way, Pt. 2

A Cooler World: Selling Italian Ice a Different Way, Pt. 2

Posted by Lilly on October 22, 2016 at 6:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Custom Italian Ice Kiosk Using Coolers


Welcome to Part 2 of "A Cooler World", where we discuss selling Italian Ice in a unique and more affordable way, by using coolers rather than a cart, trailer or truck. In Part 1, I introduced the idea, which I can't take credit for, when I stumbled onto the country's biggest Italian Ice franchise company doing it. Before we move on, I must stress that this option is really only viable for you if your Health Department is okay with it. Many Health Departments simply require that what you serve from is non-porous and can be sanitized. But some require it to be NSF rated. As I often recommend, you can ask for a waiver. Show them you can clean the units according to their requirements, and you may get a pass.


The Whys of Using Coolers

As the years went by and I gained experience, I found I needed coolers that could hold up to longer events and hotter days than my rolling party coolers. There's no denying global warming - I've certainly noticed an increase over the years in the number of days where temps in my area have reached the high 90s with an even hotter heat index. The rolling coolers I use are black with relatively little insulation, so I had a few events where the ice melted to the point of not being sellable by the end. Without any added insulation, I would say they hold temp great up to 4 hours. I began to need better performance. This led me to marine coolers.


 

Marine coolers work so well as an alternative to carts for a number of reasons. They are easily portable. They can be set up in a more efficient configuration, off to your side with a serving table in front of you. A split setup allows for two workers to scoop at the same time leading to much more revenue per hour. They're so much cheaper and let you to start your business faster and expand quickly when you need to. Got a call to sell at two different locations at a big soccer tournament? Easy, buy two more coolers, another tent and a couple tables and you're set to double your income! Or better yet, get central placement at an event, and with just two more coolers, you can sell from two sides of one tent or booth! They are also very easy to clean. And they stack up neatly for storage, say in a basement. Try doing that with your cart!



Bustling Italian Ice Kiosk Using Coolers


Marine coolers are named for their intended use by fisherman who sit on boats for long hours and need both cold drinks for themselves and a place to store their catches - hopefully not in the same cooler! They are constructed more durably, with higher plastic density and thicker foam between the plastic layers than what you find on cheaper coolers designed for a day at the park or beach. This makes them rugged, slightly heavier and also able to store cold or frozen products for days. They are sold as 5-, 7-, and 10-day coolers, designated by how many days they can keep ice cubes frozen. It's not an exact science for us Italian Ice vendors, however. And price isn't the best indicator of which cooler is better. The units I use are white Igloo brand 5-day marine coolers. White keeps ice frozen longer by reflecting sunlight. It also makes for a clean looking operation. But I have two kinds of these Igloo coolers. One has a thinner frame with a capacity of 54 quarts. And the other is a 5-day with capacity of 70 quarts. I would appear that their only difference is size, but the larger ones are also thicker and much better made. The lids on the 70 qt. lids close so snugly by suction that we sometimes have to pry them open, but that's a good thing as it keeps warm air out very well. Sadly, both of these sizes only hold two tubs of Italian Ice (2.5 gallon round tubs). On the plus side, though, they do both hold reuseable Italian Ice cold plates. So, I use the smaller cooler for events lasting 3 to 5 hours and the bigger coolers for longer and/or hotter events, lasting from 4 to 6+ hours. Of course, if I'm new to an event and unsure of how sales will go, I always take the 70 qt. coolers to be safe. Here are those coolers for you to check out:


Igloo Marine Cooler 54 Quart

            



Igloo Marine Cooler 70 Quart

This cooler has a much thicker lid and does not have a latch, which is one less part that could break off.

             


There are a bunch of similar models by Coleman and Rubbermaid. But before you make a purchase, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Using 2.5 gallon tubs for my Italian Ice, I needed to be aware of inside dimensions of coolers when I was shopping. I measured my tubs and memorized those numbers. I found that 54 quart Igloo was the smallest I could use to fit two tubs of Italian Ice. The right size for holding three tubs is around 80 quarts or larger. But some coolers have fat or strangely shaped lids and won't close properly, even though the tubs sit side by side nicely. And some coolers that have wheels will not fit Italian Ice tubs because the wheel housing cuts into the interior space at the base of the cooler. So, just know your tub dimensions very well.


Something else to consider is the size and weight of the coolers.  Though I would ideally like to have a 80 quart cooler or larger that might hold three tubs, a fully loaded cooler is a beast to carry.  I can do it by myself if I'm willing to sacrifice a few subsequent days in agony.  So we usually move the coolers by having a person on either side carrying a handle and sharing the weight.  Some smarty pants must have been thinking about this same issue because I just ran across this larger rolling marine cooler with a handle!  I see another purchase in my future. 


If you're considering using coolers for your operation, I hope I've provided enough images of other vendors doing it to give you the courage to consider it.  If money is an object or if you're not sure Italian Ice is your calling, coolers are an affordable way to start in this business.  Let me know your thoughts and/or concerns in the comments section.  And stay tuned for the next exciting post in the "A Cooler World" series, where I'll share with you my dream coolers, the ones I am all ready to buy if I ever get a truck.

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

Posted by Lilly on October 17, 2016 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (4)

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!


Why You Need a Sink (or Three)

Posted by Lilly on July 12, 2012 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)


When you first get the exciting idea to begin selling Italian Ice, that feeling can very quickly be obliterated after talking with your local Health Department and hearing that they demand for you to have at least a hand sink and/or perhaps, worse, a 3-compartment sink.  Why do you need that?  You're not selling anything that needs to be cooked.  Italian Ice has no dairy.  You're not making it yourself.  For crying out loud, you're simply opening the top of a sealed container from a licensed wholesaler.  And you're (hopefully) not scooping the Italian Ice with your bare hands; you're using NSF-rated dishers.  Why do they have to complicate things with this request, and what the heck is it? 


All of the above went through my head when I spoke with my Health Department supervisor for the first time.  And from many forum boards, it's a series of questions that goes through many other people's heads, too.  So let's start off with the basics.


What's a Hand Sink?

If you're lucky enough that your Health Department only requires a hand sink, fret not.  This is a small, portable sink made of non-pourous materials used to... you guessed it... wash your hands.  We all perform seemingly innocuous and innocent gestures such as scratching our heads and wiping an itchy nose.  But to the Health Department, these motions can easily contaminate the product we are serving.  But perhaps most obvious is that we're handling cash.  And if you've ever counted cash and then washed your hands, you've been witness to the gray water that falls into the basin.  Money really is dirty.  At any rate, to prevent any illness to your consumer, the Health Department requires that you be able to wash your hands regularly while you are vending Italian Ice.  If your HD allows you to just use hand sanitizer or gloves while you sell, hallelujah!

Photo Credit: Archiexpo.com


What's a 3-Compartment Sink?

A 3-compartment sink literally has three compartments.  One is for washing your utensils (dishers).  The next one is for rinsing those utensils.  And the last sink is for sanitizing them.  The proper technique can be learned HERE.  Many Health Departments require this setup to be located near you or even onboard your pushcart in order to wash, rinse and sanitize any dishers that become contaminated while you're selling.  Hopefully your Health Department will let you get away with just sanitizer or having clean, extra dishers on hand if that happens, and if that's the case, you're in luck.



Photo Credit: Turnkey Parlor


What's a Combination Hand & 3 Compartment Sink?

Yes, it does get worse.  The 4-Compartment sink is a dual unit that has a hand sink and the 3-compartment sink all together.  The hand sink is usually required to be separated from the other sinks by a vertical separator (a piece of stainless steel).  Check with your Health Department on that, as it may be required for passing cart inspection. 



Photo Credit: Ebay/Global Restaurant Equipment


What Are Your Options?

  • A hand sink ON your cart, COLD water only
  • A hand sink NEAR your cart (separate), COLD water only
  • A hand sink ON your cart, HOT water (pressurized or gravity)
  • A hand sink NEAR your cart, HOT water (pressurized or gravity)
  • A 4-compartment sink (with hot water ON or NEAR your cart)
  • A 4-compartment sink with dipperwell (with hot water ON or NEAR your cart)
  • Just a dipperwell (nice!)


(California vendors, I empathize with what you're required to have.)


With 3-compartment sinks, cold water is not an option.  Utensils must be washed in a specific temperature range, which your Health Department will tell you and will also check during your cart inspection.  You have to be able to show you can attain the required temperatures. 


With hot water mandates, you will next need to ask your Health Department whether it requires the water to be pressurized, meaning a battery-operated pump (or electric) will be needed to move the water from its reservoir up through the faucet.  The other option is a gravity-fed system, where the water tank is placed above the faucet and water comes down into the faucet by gravity.  There is no battery or pump in a gravity-fed system. 


To achieve hot water, you have a number of options.  Coleman (the camping company) makes a portable hot water heater for outdoor use that can be installed into a cart or used independently with your own sink supplied.  It uses a non-supplied propane tank to heat the water, and many vendors are having success with this unit for a cheap hand washing option. 


Photo Credit:  Coleman


There are also small, portable hot water heaters that can be used to make a customized system.  Check out the Eccotemp Hot Water Heater on the Cool Products page for more information on my favorite.


          

Photo Credit: AceHardware/Ariston Heater                            Photo Credit: Eccotemp


Where Can You Buy Sinks (or Build One)?


A Note on Dipperwells (or Dipwells)

This is a miniature sink with a spigot, usually for continuous running water.  You set your disher (scooper) into this well to keep it rinsed between uses and from growing bacteria.  It's usually only required of ice cream sellers because their product contains dairy and has increased risks of consumer illness, but you may find your HD requires it.  These can be as simple as a stainless steel container where the scoop rests inside with water, or a full-fledged running unit that can be hooked up to your sink's water system.

Photo Credit: PrimaRestaurantEquipment.com


A Note on Water Tanks

Your sink(s) will need two to three water tanks.  One will hold clean, potable (drinkable), cold water.  One will hold clean, hot, potable water.  And the other will hold the dirty, used water, called a wastewater, or gray, tank.  The Health Department will also tell you what minimum sizes all these tanks should be. 


FINAL IMPORTANT NOTE

Really, this is the last very important piece of information you need to know!  I had my custom cart with hand sink built, and upon submitting the plans (for the second time) to my Health Department, I was told that my sink was not placed at an adequate height.  Huh!  This was news to me!  Many Health Departments will require the sink be situated at 36 inches from the ground in order to pass inspection.  Please, for the love of all sanity and homicidal preventive measures, make sure to ask your Health Department about this. 


Whew!  I'm exhausted from typing.  Best of luck on this part of your research and construction.  Drop a line or a comment to let me know what your questions, concerns, or experiences have been.  Go get em!

Transporting Your Italian Ice Cart

Posted by Lilly on July 9, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (2)


From the beginning of this Italian Ice business idea, I knew I would need a custom cart.  Unlike those few lucky people whose Health Departments don't require a handsink, mine did.  Additionally, they insisted it be an onboard sink.  So it dawned on me that I would not be able to buy anything quickly, as it would have to be built, but also that I'd have to figure out some way to get this cart around from venue to venue that was different than the Little Jimmy's videos had shown me how to do. 


My cart doesn't fit in my SUV.  I don't own a pickup.  I can't have a trailer in my parking lot - it's against the rules, and I have no garage.  Needless to say, I've run almost the entire gamut on ideas for how to get this cart not only home from my manufacturer, but around town in general as I sell.  If you've been contemplating the same things, let me share what I've learned and some of the options for toting a 300 - 500 lb pushcart.


Landscape Trailer or Cargo Trailer

                            

Photo Credit: Lowe's                                           Photo Credit:  Stoll Trailers, Inc.


The tried-and-true method for getting a pushcart around.  Almost every vendor has gone this route at one time or another.  Purchase a trailer, hook it to your car/truck's hitch, load your trailer, tie it down and off you go.  This option likely requires registering the trailer with your DOT/DMV and insuring it, not to mention storage requirements of the trailer during the off season, if applicable to your region.  The enclosed unit has the added benefit of protecting your cart from road dirt, debris and damage while moving.


Car Hitch Carrier

             

Photo Credit: Versahaul                                               Photo Credit: Little Jimmy's


For those who don't want to tow a trailer for one reason or another, there's this option.  A carrier with ramp gets attached to your truck's or heavy duty SUV's hitch (must be able to hold 350-500 lb. tongue weight).  Use the ramp to load your pushcart.  Secure the ramp and the cart.  And, again, off you go.  The carrier, though you need to check with your DOT/DMV, usually does not require registering or insuring as its an extension of your car or truck.  And the unit can be folded up when not in use, or removed.  This was my favorite choice, until I learned my SUV couldn't carry the weight of my pushcart.  The ramp and hitch were fine to transport it, but my car's suspension would have needed to be raised. 


Pickup Truck Bed

For those of you who have a large enough pickup, all you need is a ramp, and off you go.  If you're working alone and would like to maintain your spine in useable condition, I would add a winch to the end of the pickup that can be connected to a tie-down mechanism on the underside of your cart.  The winch, whether connected to your car battery, run off a 12-volt battery, or a cordless unit (see Cool Products page), will pull the cart up the ramp for you.


Inside Dedicated Cargo Truck

This has become my newest favorite idea, but I just can't justify the cost of it so late in the season when I'm still not operational.  But it's looking like the best choice for next year.  A dedicated cargo van for your pushcart relieves so many problems and offers a vast array of options for selling your Italian Ice - think delivery, conversion to mobile scooping unit, and a respite from hot and/or wet weather, to name a few.  A really cool choice is the new Ford Transit Connect, which holds a surprising amount of payload.  But I'm looking at buying Nissan's new NV2500 with a high roof, that like the Ford, lets me stand up completely while loading and working inside the van and gives me tons of storage for Italian Ice vending accessories (tent, coolers, umbrella).  But the Nissan, being larger, can accomodate my cart and can have seats added for my kids or future employees. Even better, this option allows for me to wrap the truck in my business graphics and advertise 24/7 in one of the best-touted advertising methods available.  Currently, Nissan is offering FREE partial vehicle wrapping if you buy one of these!


       

Photo Credit: Ford                                                     Photo Credit: Nissan


Tow Behind Unit

One of the most innovative ideas I encountered too late is the convenient pushcart/trailer combo.  Allow me to explain the amazing feature of this cart.  It is a pushcart that rides on its own trailer.  But the trailer hitch connection can be removed, so that without it, it works and looks like a pushcart easily moved by the push bar.  When selling's over, simply reconnect the hitch accessory to the cart and the cart to your vehicle, and you're good to go.  No ramp, no tie downs, no large trailer, no new truck.  All you need is a hitch receiver.  This is the BEST of all options, in my opinion, and the ideal solution to transporting your cart.  Until you grow and have more than one cart, of course.  ;)  But that's a great problem for another day.  And yes, it will need to be registered and insured, but at least the insurance is something you'd probably carry on the cart anyway.  Sold by All Star Carts.  I'm sure other manufacturers can create this design for you, as well as customize it to suit your needs.



                                               Photo Credit: All Star Carts


Recently, a site member told me yet another idea that I will likely go with this year, for the few remaining months I can sell. Get a towing light kit added to my car and rent a UHaul trailer as needed.  The cost of the trailer rental is only $16 per day!  That's a price that can't be beat and can easily be covered by a day's sales. 


So what's your ideal solution?  And if you have an idea not listed, I'd love to hear it!


The Controversy Over Little Jimmy's Pushcarts

Posted by Lilly on April 18, 2012 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (6)

Photo Credit: Little Jimmy's


When I was looking to start my business selling Italian Ice by pushcart, one of the first companies I came across was Little Jimmy's.  Actually, it was practically the only company I came across because they are very diligent about their online marketing.  So, like a lot of other people, I began researching what they offered.


They are primarily an Italian Ice wholesaler, doing business under the company name of Jersey Ice Corporation, out of Elizabeth, NJ.  But what they push hard online is their pushcart business packages.  They offer a number of packages.  Each package offers cart, Italian Ice, and supplies, and each package goes up in value.  Some packages will provide you a list of places and events in your area that you can vend, which helps you get selling faster.  Their prices for these packages can be found here.


One of the unique selling features of Little Jimmy's business packages is that they are one of a very small group of suppliers who offer a non-refrigerated pushcart.  This means that the cart has no electrical supply, no cold plate systems and no mechanical way to keep the Italian Ice cold.  So naturally, one of the first questions that pops into vendors' heads is how on earth the ice can stay frozen for many hours and especially on a hot day.  Some people will outright claim it can't be done and will call Little Jimmy's a fraud.  I searched for information myself as to whether, perhaps, there was some sort of scheme involved here.  But I write this blog post now in defense of Little Jimmy's.


First of all, they have been in business a very long time.  That's not an easy thing to do in any market, but especially in today's economic crisis, they are still riding high.  Secondly, a quick jaunt over to the Better Business Bureau will show that they actually have an A+ rating!  A+... I repeat.  When you account for the number of years they have been in business, and see an A+ rating, you have to realize they must be doing something right.  But the biggest controversy is about their carts, so let's get back to that.


How can a non-refrigerated cart keep ice cold, and why would anyone bother selling or buying one when other, seemingly superior carts are on the market?  Well, I don't believe it's a scam.  Non-refrigerated carts are how Italian Ice street selling all began. 


Benefit #1: Construction

Today's carts are built much better than in years past.  The insulation is thicker and made with denser yet lighter material, resulting in a cart that holds cold temperatures for a very long time.  Here is a perfect example to illustrate this idea.  If you were going to the beach one day, you could buy a cooler at Walmart that would keep your ice-packed food cold for a few hours, perfect for a midday lunch, snacks and beverages.  By the end of that beach trip, you would find a puddle inside your cooler.  With very little and very cheap insulation, it is not meant to hold cold temperatures for long.  Contrast that with a boating trip.  You instead buy a marine grade cooler that can keep your ice frozen for days.  Naturally, this cooler will be better made, with much better insulation, and at a higher cost.  But some of these coolers can keep ice frozen for up to 15 days!  Open that cooler at the end of your boating trip, and you will still find hard ice.  The same goes for Little Jimmy's pushcarts.  They're structurally engineered to hold Italian Ice at the proper temperature for many hours.


Benefit #2: Cost

Non-refrigerated pushcarts are the least expensive way for a vendor to get their business operational. No electrical components, no compressor, no built-in cold plates means no added cost.  No maintenance costs either, should those components go awry.  A non-refrigerated pushcart cost thousands of dollars less than electric or cold plate carts.


Benefit #3: Transportability

Add to those benefits that a Little Jimmy's pushcart can fit inside most minivans and, of course, any pickup truck!  You now have a way to get that cart around that didn't add any cost to your business startup, no car hitch purchase, no trailer, no additional license plate or trailer light kit, no added trailer insurance, and no parking issues.  You're in and you're out with a simple ramp to get the pushcart into your vehicle.


So what could be better than that triple whammy of cheap, light and easy to transport?  Not much when you're starting out.  A vendor with a Little Jimmy's non-refrigerated cart can make as much money on any given day as a vendor selling out of an expensive, heavy, unwieldy cold plate or electric cart.  He/She may have a few more headaches about managing the temperature of the ice when it's extremely hot and after many hours, but that is now easily managed with the use of either dry ice or, preferably, reusable (also called eutectic) Italian Ice cold plates, which are filled with liquid that maintains the necessary +10 to +15 degree range.  Problem solved.


Now, we could get into more scientific discussion of frozen products and ambient air, that hot air rises and cold air falls and that Italian Ice goes into a cart frozen, not at 32 degrees like water, but at 0 degrees and actually requires considerable warming up to serve it.  If you put Italian Ice into a cold plate cart when the ice is frozen and set the temperature of the cart to +10 or +15 (serving temp. of most Italian Ice), it would take a very long time for the ice to become scoopable.  So a non-refrigerated cart allows the ice to warm up faster.  As you scoop ice, the ambient warm air inside the cart will rise, keeping the top layer of Italian Ice at a great serving temperature.  As a vendor, you will learn all this through trial and error, but don't let the naysayers tell you it can't be done.  It has been done for many years, and it will continue to be done as more vendors realize the benefits of a cheaper, lighter, smaller and more mobile unit.


Cartonomy 101: The Non-Refrigerated Vending Cart

Posted by Lilly on April 3, 2012 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Photo Credit: Nelson Manufacturing


Now that we've covered the electric and the cold plate vending carts, it's time to introduce the one that started it all... the non-refrigerated cart.  This is the cart of old when vendors secured ice, a cart, and a location and started taking in the cash.  No health-department, no business license, no restrictions.  You went where you wanted and sold to your heart's content.  Well, that cart still exists, although none of those other freedoms do.  Today's cart, however, is very well insulated, made with ever-improving materials.  It's durable and long-lasting.  It is simply a recessed well that houses your Italian Ice.  Because it doesn't have any electrical parts, plumbing or a compressor, this unit is the lightweight champ of frozen vending carts, coming in at around 150 to 180 lbs., without ice. 

 

How Does It Keep Italian Ice Cold?

The non-refrigerated cart keeps its contents frozen by materials and mechanics.  The insulation in the walls of some of these units can be from 1-2 inches thick and made from high technology foam that insulates far better than in times past.  The ice also stays cold by the science of hot air rising and cold air dropping.  This allows the upper portion of the cabinet to stay warmer than the lower area, allowing for easy scooping.  And the ice buckets keep each other cool by acting as their own self-contained ice packs.  You would put your ice into the cart at a slightly lower temperature than serving temp, and it would warm up enroute to your selling destination.  Depending on the outside temperature, these carts can maintain the contents at optimum serving temperature for between 4-6 hours on average.  On a very hot day, it's recommended to tote along or place at the bottom of the cart some reuseable cold plates or dry ice. 


One vendor has mentioned success with simply putting a piece of cardboard or a cut-to-size piece of styrofoam insulation on top of the ice during slow selling times, when the ice is too soft.  And another suggested leaving the flip door open or cracked, when the ice is too hard.

 

I recommend the use of a freezer thermometer, found at restaurant supply stores, placed inside the cart to display the temperature.  This will make it easier to know the temperature and more reliable than using the liquidity or hardness of your ice as a guage.  It may also reveal the rate of thawing, which will allow you to plan whether to stay selling for an extra hour or call it a day.

 

The Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easily maneuverable
  • Requires no electricity
  • Fully mobile from venue to venue
  • Holds more product due to lack of electrical compoments and freezer compressor
  • Affordable


The Cons

  • Keeping product frozen can be difficult, especially for the new vendor and on excessively hot days
  • Possible shorter selling times


While this cart seems to be a bit more challenging to operate, it offers the perfect solution for an entry-level Italian Ice vendor, being the least expensive of all the carts.  It is, after all, the one that's been used the longest throughout street vendor history, so it must still be a great viable option.  With the added freezer thermometer and reusable cold plates, those challenges become more manageable, and the cart very useful.

 

See also:

The Electric Vending Cart

The Cold Plate Vending Cart

Reusable Cold Plates

Pushcart Manufactures & Resellers

Cartonomy 101: The Cold Plate Vending Cart

Posted by Lilly on April 3, 2012 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Photo Credit: Nelson Manufacturing

 

Welcome to another lesson on the diversity of Italian Ice vending carts.  Today we will learn about the cold plate cart. This marvel of modern technology is a great cart that combines the use of electricity with the mobility of a non-refrigerated cart, which makes it the go-to cart for many Italian Ice vendors.

 

What are Cold Plates?

You can imagine cold plates to be like extremely large versions of the blue, plastic ice packs you might put into a lunchbox or cooler to keep the contents cold.  In the same way that you need to place those packs into a freezer the night before for the next day's lunch, you need to freeze the cold plates of this cart at least 24 to 48 hours in advance by plugging in its heavy duty electric cord.  Once the cold plates are frozen, they will maintain their temperature for a good many hours.  So when you're ready for your event, you unplug the cart from its electrical source, load it with Italian Ice, and head off to sell, unencumbered by whether the event has electricity available.  You are completely portable and able to move about as you need to "go where the people are" (a common Italian Ice vendors' phrase).

 

Because these units have electrical parts, an onboard compressor to freeze the cold plates, and the cold plates themselves, which are filled with freezing fluid, they can be very heavy.  Even one that only holds 6 cans of Italian Ice will weigh in the vicinity of 300 lbs. to 400 lbs, without ice.  If you require a sink, you can expect that weight to go up. This creates the problem, as with electric vending carts, of unwieldiness for the one-person operation.  

 

It's very important to understand one interesting fact about cold plate vending carts.  The cold plates are filled with freezing fluid that will hold your desired temperature when the cart is unplugged.  The fluid inside the cold plates is very specific to the product that you're selling.  For instance, if you're selling ice cream and novelties, you would need to order or find a cold plate cart that holds the correct temperature of that ice cream inside.  Italian Ice is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so it's imperative you get a cold plate cart that holds temperatures in the +10 to +20 range.  If you were to buy a used cold plate cart, say on Craigslist, it might not be disclosed to you that you need this temperature requirement.  Truly, in this case, knowledge is power.  A reputable company that sells cold plate carts will understand your need and be sure to ask you what you intend to sell with it.

 

The Pros

  • Can be used with electricity or without
  • Excellent for events lasting many hours
  • Can be equipped with temperature control dial, allowing you to keep your ice at a set temperature for as long as you're selling

 

The Cons

  • Heavy
  • Expensive to purchase
  • Expensive to repair
  • Must remember to plug the unit in to freeze the cold plates at least 24 hours in advance
  • Requires access to electricity at your commissary or where you store your cart


This cart is often the choice of Italian Ice vendors due to its fantastic versatility and ease of use, eliminating any headaches of temperature control and maintenance.  But, due to its price, weight and other factors, it is also not usually the choice of startup Italian Ice vendors.  That crown goes to the non-refrigerated Italian Ice cart.  Additionally this cart, like all of them, can be used with reuseable cold plates or dry ice should the unit malfunction, allowing vendors to continue to sell ice without loss of sales.


See also:

The Electric Vending Cart

The Non-Refrigerated Vending Cart

Reusable Cold Plates

Pushcart Manufacturers & Resellers


Cartonomy 101: The Electric Vending Cart

Posted by Lilly on April 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (1)

         

Photo Credit: FreezerPlanet.com


First and foremost, you are not crazy, and I am not illiterate.  The word "cartonomy" doesn't exist, so I'm adopting it to now mean the science that is the diversity of Italian Ice carts. We'll go into the many different types of carts, their functions and uses, along with the pros and cons of each. This is a three-part lesson, broken out into the three most popularly used carts.  We'll cover the electric, the cold plate and the non-refrigerated carts. 

 

Today, we begin our study of the Electric Cart.  Please take notes.

 

The electric Italian Ice vending cart is a unit that comes in various sizes and which is fully electric. It has a heavy duty cord and plugs into an electrical outlet.  Youi set the temperature dial to your desired scooping temperature.  It is a "set it and forget it" unit. They come in small to very large sizes, have an onboard compressor, like your standard home freezer.  But, of course, they are UL and NSF rated to be used outdoors. 

 

Who Uses Electric Vending Carts?

These carts are used by any vendor who attends events where electricity in the form of a dedicated outlet or generator hookup will be provided.  They can also be used indoors, making them ideal for catered jobs, like indoor school functions, private parties and company events. 

 

The Pros

  • What makes an electric vending cart so appealing is that it maintains its set temperature continually and consistenty, alleviating the headache of fluctuating temperatures and the possibility of your product becoming too hard or too soft. 
  • It can be operational as soon as it's plugged in and reaches the set temperature.  With other units (cold plates, which are discussed in another article), you must remember to plug the unit into electricity a day in advance to reach correct temperatures. Not so with the electric.
  • In addition, with dedicated electricity, these units can have onboard lights, neon signs, and other electricity-driven appliances for add-on products. 

The Cons

  • As you may have guessed, the dedicated electricity of these carts restricts them to venues that provide electricity.  So, unlike the traditional vendor carts that can literally move anywhere, these are limited to where they can be used.  If you are able to enter an event on a patch of grass next to a fantastic pathway with great foot traffic but no nearby electrical outlet or generator, you obviously will not want this unit. 
  • It is heavy, having an onboard compressor and electrical components and plumbing.  These range in the 500 lbs of weight.  And that's not including the weight added when Italian Ice tubs are put into it.  That makes them difficult for the one-person operation, particularly if that one person is a woman.
  • Electric vending carts can be more expensive than other units.
  • They have components that can require expensive service, for instance, if the compressor breaks or if something goes wrong with the electrical system or plumbing/tubing. 

 

So, a vendor would need to assess where they plan to sell their Italian Ice in order to determine if this electricity-dependent model would be more useful to them longterm. Perhaps, you are thinking of only going into indoor catering events or can be assured of electricity nearby at outdoor events.  Then the electric cart may be the way to go, but it's not usually the beginning operator's choice of cart. However, as a side note, if the unit were to break down or if you wanted to use it as a non-refrigerated model, this can be done via the use of dry ice or reuseable cold plates.  Though you would be toting around a very heavy non-refrigerated cart, dry ice or reuseable cold plates could prevent the loss of sales.


See also:

The Cold Plate Vending Cart

The Non-Refrigerated Vending Cart

Reusable Cold Plates

Pushcart Manufacturers & Resellers

Seek Cover!

Posted by Lilly on April 1, 2012 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday I got to make my very first purchase toward my Italian Ice business!  And it was an exciting moment for me, so I thought I'd share it with you.

 

Everyone knows you're not really a street vendor until you raise up the trademark pushcart umbrella.  So I visited my local Home Depot and purchased two 9-foot umbrellas for my cart in beautiful, bright lime green (one spare for just in case).  They are going to look fantastic on my custom cart and be quite functional shading me, my ice, and my customers, as well as attracting them.  They'll also make the perfect display support for bagged chips as add-on sales.

 

If you're starting your business from the beginning, or for the new season, I recommend you hop out (sorry for the pre-Easter pun) and get a few of these market umbrellas yourself.  They are inexpensive compared to the umbrellas sold by Italian Ice business outfitters.  They carry a 1-year warranty and come in fantastic colors to set my cart apart.  And the wood stem has a nicer visual appeal than other ones made of aluminum.

 

But these umbrellas come and go so fast, if you blink, you'll miss them.  Unless you live in the South, they are a seasonal item that disappears faster than colored eggs at an Easter egg hunt!