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.



Igloo Yukon







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.


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!

My Custom Hand Sink

Posted by Lilly on June 30, 2014 at 8:25 AM Comments comments (12)

One year ago, I wrote a blog post about the Awesomest Hand Sink for selling Italian Ice, which I was having custom crafted to finally become compliant with my Health Department's hand sink rule.  What I completely forgot to do was update you guys and show you the photos of the sink and how perfect it is for those vendors looking for NSF equipment who want a portable sink that doesn't need electricity.  This is a one-of-a-kind!


  • Uses the Coleman Hot Water On Demand unit - this means I don't need to find buy separate little parts, such as pump, water heater, and propane tank.  Nor do I have to become a plumber and figure how to put those parts together!  The Hot H2O On Demand is a single, portable unit that comes complete with a rechargeable battery, charger, pump, faucet, and 5-gallon clean water tank.  All I needed to buy in addition was a few mini-propane canisters (found at Big Box stores, virtually everywhere for roughly $3 each) and a 6-gallon dirty water tank for $10 (also called gray water tank).

  • Easily pushable on four casters - perfect for getting on and off loading ramps.
  • Weighs only 60 lbs. empty.
  • Has a shelf for extra supplies, like paper towels.  Also has front door with magnetic close, so you don't see all the guts.  Nice for presentation.  Makes my setup look very professional!
  • Fits in my SUV, and also on my cargo trailer with ease! - measures only 22" W x 22" L x 36" H.
  • NSF Rated
  • Needs NO electricity!

It's the ONLY existing hand sink made to use with the Coleman Hot H2O On Demand that is ready to go!  It's the quickest option for those needing only a hand sink, who don't want to build their own or don't want to be dependent on electricity.  While it's not cheap, being all steel, it's the answer for those Health Departments who mandate NSF equipment.  And the price is right in line with other stainless steel sinks sold on the market - all much larger, heavier and electricity-dependent.

Now, for the reveal!  Here are the photos of my sink!  For me, it was the long-lost piece in a puzzle I'd been working on for a year and half... and an answer to my prayers.  Give me your thoughts in the comments! 


Storing Backup Italian Ice at Events

Posted by Lilly on June 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (6)

Selling Italian Ice from a cart is the first aspect Italian Ice vendors consider.  You need to find the right cart for you, the right ice, of course, an umbrella or tent, and the dishers (scoops).  In the beginning, we are so focused on instant selling that it can be easy to overlook future needs.  For instance, when I started out, I was certain I'd only sell at any gig for a maximum of 2 to 4 hours.  I wanted it this way for a few lifestyle reasons.  And frankly, I thought I'd go berserk sitting in a booth selling Italian Ice for any longer. 

Well, I have two official gigs under my belt now, both of which I'd chosen to participate for no more than four hours.  But, instead, for the first one I opted to stay an extra hour because my daughter and I were having so much fun!  We would have stayed longer, but the softball tournament ended, at which time all the food vendors were offered beer to celebrate.  See?  Fun!  And I don't drink!  The second gig was scheduled for the same amount of time, but we stayed for seven hours!!  Yes, seven, out of sheer enjoyment and because sales suddenly picked up dramatically around 5:00pm, more so even than the run of customers we expected would hit our booth between 12:00pm and 2:00pm.  Seems around Pennsylvania, Italian Ice (a.k.a. Water Ice) is a late-afternoon treat, which makes for an upcoming change in scheduling for me.

But one important lesson learned was the need for back up Italian Ice around the booth for when we sold out of a flavor, or when one flavor began melting too fast.  The latter was a nasty surprise that I have yet to figure out how to handle.  What didn't melt, however, was the stored Italian Ice I  had under our setup tables in different coolers. 

Let me show you what worked like a charm! 

I have two, 5-day Igloo coolers. Specifically, they are 5-day, 70 quart, marine coolers, purchased locally at Kmart last year for about $50 each.  These coolers have much thicker walls than typical coolers, which means better insulation.  And I found out that their touted "will keep ice frozen for 5 days!" claim was right on!  Of course, they mean regular ice, as in cubes, and not Italian Ice which requires even colder temperature to stay frozen, but who knows!  I haven't tested it out.  But during my selling events, I placed two tubs of Italian Ice inside each of my coolers, providing me with four backup tubs of ice.  Some were new flavors (to keep things interesting to customers), and some were intended to restock the best-selling mango and lemon.

Now, the Italian Ice in the coolers may have done well alone, but I didn't take any chances, being a new vendor.  So I decided to place a reuseable cold pack in each cooler, too.  I was amazed to discover that the reuseable cold packs fit absolutely perfectly inside the cooler, as though the two had been crafted for each other.


And the best part?  Picture me holding my breath when I was first trying this out... the lid also closed completely and perfectly.  I got a snug, airtight seal.  And I am happy to inform you, fellow vendors, that both sizes of reuseable cold packs by Nelson Manufacturing fit inside the cooler!  Note to you all: I deliberately placed my reuseable cold packs on top of the Italian Ice.  I think our first choice may be to place them on the bottom of the coolers or perhaps standing up on the sides.  But, here's an important tip.  We all know hot air rises, right?  Well, cold air drops.  So to keep the Italian Ice cold, placing the cold packs on top means that their coldness will drop down to the lowest level, where the tubs of ice are.  This is science applied!  Keep it in mind.

Now, for their performance!  At my second gig, the seven hour one, I ran out of a few flavors, with a line of customers, right around the 6th hour of selling.  At this point, I had to stop operations and get out my backstock.  Again I held my breath as I opened the lids on the Italian tubs to see whether or not they had stood up to the amount of time in the coolers.  Folks, let me tell you... I faced one happy, but anxiety-ridden, awkward moment as I learned that the ice was rock solid!  They had kept cold so well for seven hours, that when I needed them, they were actually too cold to scoop.  How awesome is that?!  I had to face my customers and tell them the problem.  And it was remedied shortly after by simply leaving the tops off the new tubs and letting them sit, exposed, for about eight agonizing minutes.  They were still difficult to scoop at this point, but were somewhat workable. 

Finally, to counter my own "cold air drops" reasoning for placing the cold packs on top of the Italian Ice tubs, I have to say, I may try placing the cold packs on the bottom the next time I'm out selling.  I have a new theory that maybe this way, the bottom of the Italian Ice will stay hard, but the top portion, where we scoop first, may be less solid.  What do you think?

So, there you go.  Trust these coolers!  Slap in those cold packs, and plan to get your backstock out about 15 minutes before you actually need to scoop them, and you'll be right as rain! 

How about you?  What do you do to keep backstock at events for long periods of time that has worked for you?  Click on the comment link above, and share your knowledge.

Introducing the "Awesomest" Hand-Sink for Italian Ice Vendors

Posted by Lilly on May 28, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (7)

"Where there's a will,

There's a way!"

I know you've heard that cliche a million times in your life, but it bears repeating when you're starting an Italian Ice business.  I'm sure it works just as perfectly in any business startup, but knowing the challenges and obstacles pushcart vending faces, it's got a richer message.  Whatever you do, folks, don't get discouraged and don't give up.  Anything you can imagine can be yours if you go after it hard enough and persistently.

Now that I've passed on that motivational tidbit, I'll share the backstory of why I'm saying it.  If there's one thing that has held me back from this Italian Ice business, it's been my Health Department's rule that I have an onboard sink on my pushcart.  I have heard that this is the way many states are heading, if they're not already there.  Standardization of mobile food is on the way.  Not even obtaining a commissary was as difficult as meeting the sink requirement.

After creating a custom cart last year to allow my petite body the chance at pushing four heavy tubs of Italian Ice, plus several gallons of water for a handsink and a propane tank to heat it, I had hit the wall.  It is just too physically taxing, as well as time consuming, to load and unload the 350 lb. cart onto and off of a trailer for the relatively quick events I plan on attending (2-3 hours). 

That custom cart I had made was the result of over-optimism, to be sure.  But I'm not letting anyone fool me into believing I'm not cut out for business if I make mistakes at the beginning.  I've read of many entrepreneurs whose mistakes cost millions of dollars, and still they eventually hit the big leagues.  Obviously they didn't set out to sell Italian Ice, but you understand.  It doesn't scare me that I've made mistakes, because they've taught me ways to make my business even better. And with that mistake in mind, I approached my Health Department once again a couple of weeks ago. 

I drafted up a custom sink, one that would use the Coleman Hot Water on Demand system.  This all-in-one hot water heater would sit on a custom-made sink cabinet that would house the fresh and waste water tanks underneath.  It will be only 20 inches by 20 inches and the HD-required 36" high (a.k.a. counter height) and weigh only about 60 lbs. when empty.  Before fabricating this unit, I wanted to be absolutely sure that my HD would allow its use.  I asked for the Holy Grail of Health Department considerations... the waiver.  Explaining the cumbersomeness of the unit I'd already had made to meet their requirements, I petitioned them to allow me to separate my sink from a cart and operate the two individually, as long as the sink is always in close proximity when I sell Italian Ice. 

It's important to note that I brought as many visual images as I could to help them see my vision and that it would comply with their codes.  I found a Kettlecorn vendor who got approval to use the Coleman water heater down in Florida, so I showed them that it was accepted in other states.

Kettlecorn Vendor Using Coleman Hot Water On Demand as Sink System

They added one requirement - that I up the minimum size of water tanks from 2.5 gallon fresh/4 gallon dirty to a 5 gallon fresh/6 gallon dirty.  At first I resisted, because that would add size and weight to the sink unit.  But in the end, I saw that it would be better to have more water, since the Coleman unit does use water rather quickly.  And the Coleman comes with a 5-gallon water tank already!  But with my sink design I have the option of using smaller tanks or larger tanks, whenever and whatever the venue may require.

I got the pre-approval I was hoping for.  And so, I immediately ordered the Coleman unit and contacted the company who will custom create my little handwash sink.  It's at their facilty being made right now, should be complete in less than two weeks, and costs only slightly more than a unit I could buy online (electric dependent).  But it will be the smallest, lightest weight, completely portable, fully self-contained and operational handsink that exists on the market!  NO ELECTRICITY (it has its own rechargeable battery which can plug into a car charger or household outlet)!  NO PROPANE TANK (it uses disposable propane canisters found everywhere inexpensively).  NO HASSLE taking the sink around (it can be broken down to its four lightweight components for easy mobility and cleaning).  And YES ... I'm taking orders!  :D

The Hidden Income in Self-Service Italian Ice Catering

Posted by Lilly on May 20, 2013 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (13)

In at least one recent post, I highlighted how I could sell Italian Ice without having to actually scoop or deal with my Health Department's requirements.  It's simple... delivery (a.k.a. catering).  Today, I'm elated to report to you that my launch of the catering side of the business was a success with the first order I received this past weekend.

It's the end of the school year now, and many elementary schools have festive carnivals and Spring Fairs and Field Days, great events that wrap up the year with some type of outdoor party.  And what goes better with hot kids and the outdoors than Italian Ice?  Yeah, I can't think of anything either! 

So I got a call - a bit of short notice - for an order of five 2.5 gallon tubs of Italian Ice for the following day.  As it turned out, I had prepared myself with rolling coolers, which I let these folks borrow for free.  I do plan to charge for equipment rental, but truth be told, I was just so thrilled to have my first order that I felt generous.  For each tub, I charged $33.00.  This decent price is $5.00 below the cost of the same sized tubs from Rita's locally.  I also provided free delivery and setup, which Rita's most certainly does not.  The setup consisted of assembling the quick-connect legs of the coolers (30 seconds) and then placing the 77-quart coolers full of tubs onto the legs.  Then I rolled the coolers into place next to my customer's selling table.  I did not provide cups, spoons or napkins, and I thought the discount on tubs and the full-service I provided more than made up for not providing those amenities.  But this works, since it allows the customer to use any material or color of cup plus multiple sizes and price points to their customers, rather than the one size, dirt-cheap cup I would likely provide for free.  I was also sure to mention that sales tax was included in the quoted price, to which I heard a delightful "Ohhhhh!" 


Right after rolling the carts in place, I opened the top of one cooler to pull out the five dishers (scoops) I was also providing for their use, to be returned after the event. Though the customer and I hadn't discussed the need for dishers for her event, there was a definite sense of relief when she realized she hadn't thought to get any.   At this point, my customer exclaimed, "Why can't everybody come this prepared?"  It was music to my ears, though I maintained my gloating grin for the sake of professionalism. 

Promptly after the event ended, I showed back up to collect my coolers and dishers.  Though it was only a temperature of 69 degrees and drizzly, the event had been a success.  I saw that there were only two half-tubs left over.  They had made a lot of money!  Everyone was happy all around.  And my very satisfied customer commented that she will be telling everyone about my service.  Yahoo!

As an aside, I quicky learned a few lessons.  Though I've heard it said before in business, it's worth repeating... "Always under promise and over deliver".  I learned that it's best to show up as close as possible to the anticipated start time of the event, rather than at the beginning of any setup time.  In this case, setup for the event started at 2:00pm, but the event actually began at 3:00pm.  That extra hour could have made a difference between melted and scoopable ice by the end of the 4-hour shindig.  So I'll remember that for the future. The other lesson learned was this...

When I checked my inventory to see whether I had my customer's requested flavors in stock, I happened to open one container just to be certain it did not have any freezer burn or ice crystals.  All good there.  However, this tub of cherry ice had been used to scoop Italian Ice for a photo shoot.  So while it looked full and good to sell from all indications on the outside of the tub, it would have been disastrous if the customer opened the tub to see it had already been scooped from!  From now on, I will do two things to prevent that.  When possible I will store those tubs designated for my scooping sales into one freezer, and I'll keep unopened tubs for catering sales in a different freezer.  Additionally, I have begun the act of placing a large black "X" on the lid of any opened/used container, so I can't make that near-fatal mistake again. 

Now, onto numbers!  For the 20 minutes total that it took me to throw coolers in my car, some Italian Ice tubs into the coolers, and set up the rolling coolers at the event, I made a cool $165.00 in revenue.  For the sake of easy explanations, I'm going to leave things like gas out of the equation (they were right up the street) and sales tax, too.  At the per-tub rate I'm charging, I would make $660.00 per hour, if I did that kind of business all day long.  It would be insane income. And for something that was pretty darn near effortless!  I was surprised to see how easy logistics and execution were, and how much I could profit to keep offering this service in my business.  Though it's not near as fun as scooping and interacting with customers, and driving around making deliveries would get old in a hurry, perhaps the money to be made could bring a change of heart.

Take Your Italian Ice Cart to Events Easily!

Posted by Lilly on March 5, 2013 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (1)

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Little Jimmy's Vendor with Cargo Carrier

I've written before about transporting your Italian Ice pushcart around.  In that overview article, I  discussed one option that has a lot of interest.  It's the use of a cargo carrier (or scooter carrier) on the back of your truck or SUV.  For those of you with smaller and lighter pushcarts, this on-hitch cargo carrier may be a great solution! They are originally designed to transport mobility scooters, all terrain vehicles and other similarly sized and weighted objects as our Italian Ice carts.  So they are an ideal piece of equipment to make selling Italian Ice a breeze.

BUT!  You may need a whole mess of education before you just go out and buy one of these.  As I found out firsthand, there's a price to pay in the form of a steep learning curve to enjoy the ease of pushcart tranportation they'll provide. 

If you feel you're an Italian Ice vendor who wants to go this route, here's a general step-by-step checklist to determine if you and the cargo carrier would make an ideal business partnership.

1. How Much Can Your Vehicle Tow?

First, what type of vehicle do you currently own or intend to buy for the business?  Most car owners will not be able to use these carriers, due to the weight specifications that may exceed what most cars can tow safely.  However, trucks and SUVs usually have the necessary requirements.  Now... what's your vehicle's maximum towing capacity?  You can find this in your truck manual or by looking up specifications of your car/truck's model year online. Take that number and calculate 10% and 15% of that number.  This is your tongue weight range.  I know how that sounds, but just write that down.  It's the amount of weight your car's hitch can have sitting directly on it (as opposed to towing behind it).

2. Determine Your Pushcart's Weight (loaded & unloaded)

Next, you have to know the weight of your pushcart, two different ways  - 1) completely empty and 2) loaded with Italian Ice, in case you think you'll ever attempt to transport it that way.  If you'd prefer a lighter, empty cart for transportation, consider that you will have to load the Italian Ice into the pushcart after arriving at your selling destination, and you'll have to remove any Italian Ice out of the cart after you're done selling and ready to drive home.  Write these numbers down.

3. Hitch Class Selection (you may have options)

With the above numbers written down, you can now proceed to see which hitches (say THAT 10 times fast!) can be mounted to your vehicle.  You find that by visiting any hitch retailer's webpage and plugging in your vehicle's make/model/year.  That will generate your hitch options.  Next you'll select the right Class hitch.  Hitches are rated in Classes that categorize different towing weights, whether sitting on the hitch directly (tongue weight) or towing behind the vehicle on a trailer with its own wheels/axle.  Find a Class of hitch that corresponds with the weights from Step 2.  This narrows your choices or may leave you with the only one that will work.  At this point, make your hitch selection, and note the size of the hitch coupler opening - that square hole that hitch accessories get inserted into.  This size must match with the carrier that you choose (a male/female type joining - sorry to get so graphic!).

4.  Carrier Selection

Now you're ready to shop for the cargo carrier.  You'll find them at retailers who cater to handicap persons, mobility stores selling wheelchair and scooter carriers, and also at toy hauling websites (4 wheelers, motorcycles, etc.).  You can contact some manufacturers directly, such as VersaHaul. The carriers have their own set of considerations, which ranges from price, material, to options, length of ramp and size of platform. 


Cargo Carrier Folded Up and Open

Prices range from $250 to $900.  Materials range from powder-coated steel to aluminum.  And options include the ability to swing the unit away to get inside the back of your vehicle, as well as the ability to fold up the carrier when not in use.  You may also like a longer ramp, which allows your cart to roll up and down the ramp at an easy incline versus a steep one (as seen in the photos of my SUV and carrier above and below).

Cargo Carrier Ramp

The next part is critical.  There are two very important considerations when shopping.  First, the carriers will list their maximum weight capacities, how much they can hold.  However!  The carriers themselves have their own weights!  You need to find what the carrier weight is by itself.  They run around 100 lbs.  So this means, if you find a carrier that can support your cart's weight (as you intend to haul it - loaded or unloaded), you will need to add the pushcart weight to the carrier weight.  Then determine, does that number fall under or exceed your vehicle's hitch tongue weight maximum?  Super important!  The tongue weight capacity is the maximum vertical weight that the hitch can support, and typically ranges from 100 lbs to 750 lbs, or 10% 15% of your vehicle's towing capacity.  Staying in the safe range of tongue/vehicle towing weights can mean the difference between a great selling season and a summer in the hospital.  But get all this right, and there's nothing to be afraid of.  Lastly, be sure the carrier you want has platform dimensions that can fit your cart.  Measure from the outside of the wheels, both lengthwise and widthwise.

5. Hitch Install

Now that you've checked and double checked your numbers, you're ready to buy that hitch and get it installed on your SUV/truck.  Get this step done before you order your carrier, in case there are any surprises. 

6. Order & Install Your Carrier

This is the best part.  Once the carrier arrived pre-assembled, I was able to install it fairly easily with the help of my 13-year-old daughter.  I bought the largest one on the market because of my slightly oversized custom cart.  It would have been hard for me to put it on my car alone, but a smaller carrier would not have been a problem (like the one used in the Little Jimmy's video above).  Then, once on for Summer, it doesn't need to come off again till Fall. 

7.  Additional Gear

One final thing to buy in advance of your scooter carrier's arrival is a locking hitch pin.  This is inserted into your carrier and hitch receiver to keep the unit from falling off.  But the pin provided in the enclosed hardware won't keep people from stealing the expensive carrier from off the back of your vehicle!  So this accessory is mandatory.  You will also need a minimum of two 2-inch ratchet tie-downs.  I found some great ones inexpensively at Walmart.   Then you're ready to lock and load! 


Locking Hitch Pins

I could only have written this informative step-by-step article because I went through all of it and lived to tell the tale.  It was a two-month process of education, calculations and frustration, calling companies, verifying and re-verifying... only to have it all fail miserably when I went to pick up my cart at the manufacturer in Jersey. I was just a few pounds over, but it was clear my SUV was sagging enough to endanger my trip home with the cart.  I would hate for that to happen to anyone!  But, please don't be deterred.  If this is a viable option for you, go for it!  It's a super convenient way to tote a cart around that also leaves the interior of your truck empty to transport extra Italian Ice, umbrella, other merchandise, etc., which would be problematic if your pushcart were inside your truck.

Note:  Alternatively you could find the scooter carrier that fits your cart's dimensions and weight and work your way backward, instead.  You'd then select your car's hitch/class according to what hitch your scooter carrier will work with.  But there are far more choices in carriers than hitches, so the way I've laid it out makes the most sense to me.  And it's time wasting to find a carrier that's perfect only to find that your hitch or vehicle can't support it plus your Italian Ice cart.

Learn about Carriers, HItches, Tongue Weight and more HERE


Transporting Your Italian Ice Pushcart

More Scoop on Dishers

Posted by Lilly on November 20, 2012 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (8)

This post is the sequel to the story titled The Scoop on Dishers.  In looking back, I was very interested in telling you all I'd learned about dishers and spades, but I realize only now that I could have included even more, such as what to look for, what your health department may require and where to purchase them.  So, I hope this post will make someone's life just a little bit easier in starting up their Italian Ice business.  Here goes...

Now that we're all on the same page about the difference in scoopers and dishers and spades (oh, my!), let's look at what you're going to need when it comes time to buy them.  My previous article explained that, while they come in nice, pretty colors, those colors are not for show.  They're a color coding system for the size of the disher's portion holding ability.  This is great quantity control when you want each cup of Italian Ice to have the same amount in them so you don't have angry customers, or worse... variable profit. 

There are many companies that manufacture dishers, and this may be of concern to you as these companies have varying standards in quality, as well as price of dishers.  On the lower end, you will find Hamilton Beach and Winco make the most common dishers.  They have a typically loose and rickety-sounding thumb release mechanism.  But they are cheap and easily replaceable.  I can find these readily at my local restaurant supply store.

Photo Credit: Hamilton Beach

You may be tempted to stop in at any kitchen supply store or the kitchen gadget section of your Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy something cheap or that you find attractive, perhaps even ergonomic, considering the amount of hours you'll be using that gadget to scoop cup after cup of Italian ice.  But here's where the sad news meets opportunity for inventors.  There are no super comfortable, easy-to-use, attractive and cheap commercial dishers for those who need them and would use them most, us vendors.

Currently on the higher end, there is only one company I've found making dishers that are considered ergonomic.  And this is the Zeroll Company.  Their dishers have a unique look.  You will immediately notice the lack of a thumb release. And the dishers offer multiple ways to hold and grip the tool, whether with your thumb or by use of your entire hand in a squeeze motion that makes repeated use less likely to cause carpal tunnel. 

Photo Credit: Zeroll EZ Disher

Whichever dishers you're considering, make sure you take into account the following information:

What to Buy

Commercial Quality

You will need to buy dishers specifically for commercial (business) use.  The home use dishers will not hold up to constant and repeated use and washing, and will leave you unable to scoop Italian Ice, as Murphy's Law would suggest, right when you have your longest line.

NSF Rating

The National Sanitation Foundation is a company that certifies products for public health and safety.  You will want to get dishers that are NSF certified for commercial use.  And your health department will concur. Those you buy at Target for home kitchen use are not NSF certified.

Left Hand/Right Hand/Universal Disher

This is one of those things that people don't consider until they're actually holding a disher in their hand.  Typically they are made for right handed users.  As of this writing, the only dishers for left handed users are the universal dishers by Zeroll (see below).

Quantity (more than one)

You will need a good number of these, not just one.  Some health departments require one disher per flavor of Italian Ice, or one for each bucket you're scooping from, so as not to mix flavors or contaminate containers.  Some also require backup dishers to be on hand in case you drop one on the floor and don't have a warewashing sink next to you.  Be sure to ask your health department's requirement on this issue.

What NOT to Buy

All-metal dishers with a symmetrical mechanism

Believe it or not, these are not NSF rated, though they would certainly seem so due to the all-metal construction.

Ice Cream Scoops

These are the ones that do not have a scoop release mechanism and are impossible to use for vending.  Unless you have limitless patience and time to get the Italian Ice out of the little scoop's bowl, these are the wrong kind for vending Italian Ice.  They require the smoothness of ice cream to glide through in order to work, and so they are strictly for ice cream and not frozen water products.

Commercial Dishers Manufacturer Pages


Hamilton Beach




The Scoop on Dishers

Posted by Lilly on May 1, 2012 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (10)


Starting an Italian Ice business is a lot like learning a new word or seeing a new car.  Suddenly, everywhere you go, you encounter this new "thing".  So, in starting my business, I've been hyper-aware of all that I took for granted when I'd visit an Italian Ice or ice cream shop.  And the most noticeable tool is that ubiquitous scooper.  I've italicized that word because it's what we laypersons call them.  It's an ice cream scoop, right?  Well... no.  We're entrepreneurs and experts now in this Italian Ice subculture, so you must now learn that scoopers are the actual people who scoop your Italian Ice or ice cream.  And a scoop is a non-descript tool that scoops ingredients in no discernible, measured amount.  It's a tool you would use to scoop dog food into your dog's bowl.

The proper terms for the tools used by Italian Ice and ice cream vendors are dishers and spades.  A disher is the tool that has a metallic rounded bowl and a clicking mechanism for ejecting the product out of it and into your serving cup.  A spade is what's used at Rita's, which is a large, flat looking spoon.  It gets the product out of the tub and into the cup with no particular shape.  When the cup is full, the spade is used to flatten the top of the Italian Ice and clean up the look of the served product.  Personally, I prefer the appealing rounded ball presentation, so I plan to use dishers. 

But, don't think this lesson is over yet.  As dishers go, there is still much to learn.  There are a number of different types, with different ejecting mechanisms and multiple sizes.  Learning all these differences is like getting a PhD in Italian Iceology.  Believe it or not, you can encounter charts showing the different sizes with variances by manufacturer and other criteria.  But, here's what I did.  I asked my wholesaler what size disher they use when they sell retail.  I already know I like how their served product looks, and I want to achieve the same look.  Easy enough. The answer, by the way, turned out to be the blue #16 disher. 

For those just venturing into this aspect of the Italian Ice business, I'll go into more detail.  Dishers are sold by numbers.  In our business, the most common are #12, #16 and #20.  The numbers represent the amount of scoops in a quart.  Yeah.  Their purpose, however, makes a lot more sense.  They are divided into how much they serve as a way to ensure consistent proportions every time.  Not only is this fair to customers that they each get the same amount.  But it's ideal for the vendor to control product cost.  So it's a win-win solution.  Spades, unfortunately, do not offer this advantage.  though it explains why Rita's gives a flat topped Italian Ice.  In this way, they are controlling portion sizes by using the cup itself to determine consistent servings.

To make life easier, the handles of dishers are universally color-coded by the number of the disher.  So all #12 disher handles are green, and all #16 disher handles are blue, regardless of manufacturer.  Please don't do as I did and get your hopes up on a beautiful color that would complement your business scheme only to find out you can't use it, unless you plan to scoop malt ball-sized portions.

You will encounter all kinds of dishers in your search for supplies.  One caveat is to make sure the one you select is NSF approved.  This is the governmental stamp that assures your disher will meet sanitation codes for commercial selling.  And by all means, if you have a local restaurant supply store, go there and try the dishers out yourself.  I found that my hands are too small to work the one I was planning to buy.  I'd have ended up a very unhappy worker with carpal tunnel syndrome.  So I found ergonomic ones online that work perfectly for my small hands and that my children can also operate, when they help out.