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

Posted by Lilly on October 22, 2016 at 6:05 AM

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.

Categories: Equipment & Supplies, Pushcarts, Getting Started

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