So You Want to Start an Ice Cream Shop?

Without a doubt, ice cream is a popular treat among young and old alike, and this means it has the potential to become a lucrative business. With enough hard work, assets, and the right equipment, you can fulfill your desire of running a successful ice cream parlor. Whether you’ll go with the traditional route of ice cream by the scoop or a newer trend of frozen yogurt, many factors await you before you can open your doors.

You may choose to sell ice cream and yogurt from a vendor, or you may choose to craft your own artisan flavors. You may also choose to include any number of food items or pair your frozen treats with coffee. When considering how to start an ice cream business, let DEQonline help by providing you with the equipment you’ll need to make your venture a success.

Which one is right for you?

Before you can begin to determine what kind of equipment you’ll need, you need to decide what type of ice cream business you hope to open. If you are planning for a simple shop that only offers soft serve over the counter or you’re operating an ice cream truck or cart, you’ll need far less equipment than if you were operating a full-service ice cream shop with dozens of flavors, varieties, or options for your ice cream.

Soft serve ice cream machines are a versatile way to incorporate ice cream into your existing menu. They’ll serve up ice cream and frozen yogurt or custard. You can purchase several of these in order to supply your customers with a variety of flavors and presto, you’ve added ice cream into your mix.

Excited for Ice Cream

If you’re looking for something with a little more nostalgia, you might go for an all-out ice cream parlor with black-and-white tiled floor and a jukebox in the corner. In this case, you’ll want to make sure your soda jerk has all the proper wares, such as a milkshake mixer, dispensers for gooey hot fudge and caramel, and dipping cabinets to house gallons of ice cream for scooping. If you’re hoping to offer handmade, artisan selections, you may need more equipment like a commercial mixer and a blast chiller.

Once you know the type of ice cream you’ll be offering, you’ll also need to determine how you’ll package the end product. Will you have staff who scoop and top your ice cream or will you allow your customers to make their own concoctions and charge them by the weight of the treat? Either way, you’ll need ice cream dishes and utensils such as scoops and spades for service. You’ll also need a scale, if you’re going with the weighted method.

Initial Cost and Time

An ice cream truck can be started with as little as a couple of thousand dollars, while a brick-and-mortar shop can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in start-up costs. A truck, cart, or kiosk can be started almost immediately, but you’ll need time if you go with a full-fledged shop. Depending on if you’re renting existing space or building your own, it could take a year or more to get your business up and making money. These will be considerations whether you go it alone or join a franchise.

New Beginnings or Franchise?

There are many benefits and drawbacks to both stand-alone operations and franchises when deciding how to open an ice cream shop. With stand-alone shops, you’ll have complete control over every aspect of your business. If you choose a franchise, you’ll have to pay franchise licenses and royalties, but they’ll come with an existing customer base and brand recognition.

You also may be limited in your menu offerings if you go the franchise route. You can pretty well bank on instant income with a franchise, but that will come at a pretty steep rate to start. Creating a stand-alone business will definitely give you more freedom to exercise your creativity.

Location, Location, Location

Once you’ve settled on the type of ice cream business you want and whether you’ll be going alone or with a franchise, you’ll need to determine the best location to bring your dream to life. You may want to consult the Small Business Administration, as they have resources can help you determine the demographics of certain areas to ensure that the business you want is sustainable in the market you’re looking for.

Ice Cream Shop

Once you’re certain the market can support your business, you’ll want to contact a realtor to choose the right building and hammer out the details of any purchase or lease agreements. Of course, you can bypass all that with a mobile business that can go where the people are, instead of the other way around. Even then, find the right location will take some work, as different areas regulate mobile food vendors differently. Check with a local codes enforcement officer to determine what restrictions you might face.

Developing Your Identity

When going it alone, you’ll want to come up with a marketing concept that will help your business stand out in the crowd. From the name of the business to the décor, to the menu, every detail must be addressed to ensure that what you have in your mind makes its way to the customer.

There are many ways to make your brand unique. There is a difference between an upscale gourmet shop and more basic, family-friendly concepts. Families might look for something cheap and simple, while upscale customers might be willing to pay more for a unique experience, adventurous flavors, and a hip concept.

You will probably want your menu to include the standard favorites like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, but it’s easy to set your ice cream stand apart by using organic, all-natural flavorings and hand-crafted processes. Freshly baked cones and bowls may help make your shop the most popular one on the street. You may also want to craft a completely original recipe or two—a flavor customers can only get at your shop.

Once you’ve established and perfected your go-to recipes, then begin exploring new, non-traditional ingredients to target the more hip palate.

Growing the Menu

While ice cream is a veritable recession-proof treat, it never hurts to diversify your menu and add to your bottom line. Drinks are a relatively simple way to achieve this without much overhead or fuss. If you’re serving your frozen treats from a cart, a simple cooler full of a selection of bottled or canned soft drinks, sports drinks, or water will complement your profits. Your customers will also appreciate having a drink to wash down their sweet delight.

Ice Cream Display Case

If you’re in a permanent structure, your addition doesn’t have to stop at simple beverages. It would be easy to expand your offerings to include shakes, smoothies, or frappés, given the proper equipment.

You may even consider adding a line of baked goods. Who doesn’t love a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two freshly baked cookies? Ice cream cakes are also popular items that could be added to the menu. You might even consider balancing the sweet flavors of ice cream with a selection of salty snacks like popcorn or pretzels.

Labor and Training

As with any business, hiring solid employees will help ensure that your ice cream shop makes it. Even if you have the greatest ice cream in the world, if your customer service is lacking, the odds are good people won’t return.

Many franchises offer training both at their headquarters and in your store. If you’re starting an independent business, you’ll have to determine the way your employees will be trained when opening an ice cream shop. Always keep in mind that your staff is the face of your brand, so you’ll want to take special care to select and train high-quality employees, and give them the tools they need to make your statement.

Licenses and Permits

As with any business, you’ll want to check with local government offices to see what types of licenses and permits you’ll need. These will vary greatly depending on the type of business you’ll be opening.

In either case, you’ll need to register for both federal and state tax identification numbers to ensure you’re paying any and all applicable sales, employment, and income taxes. Most ice cream trucks and kiosks will need an inspection and permit from the local health department. You can also expect to need a food vendor permit. Depending on the way you’ll be running your utilities, you may need a permit from the utility provider if you’ll be using shore energy or if you’ll need to empty and clean a grease trap.

You will also need to check with state and local agencies to see if there are restrictions to selling homemade ice cream. There are some areas that will not allow vendors to use raw milk, so you need to make sure you’re in compliance with local codes. Codes may be less restrictive and permit easier to obtain if you’ll simply be peddling pre-packaged ice cream novelties out of a mobile truck, but there may be noise ordinances that won’t allow the music that draws crowds to ice cream trucks.

Additional Equipment Considerations

No matter how simple or elaborate your ice cream shop is, you will need a great deal of equipment. Depending on how elaborate or exhaustive your menu is, your list of equipment needs may grow exponentially:

  • Storage: You’ll need ways to store both dry and cold food items. At the very least, you’ll need airtight storage bins to keep cones and waffle bowls fresh. You’ll need shelves to keep those containers off the floor to keep the area organized and sanitary.
  • Refrigeration: Reach-in coolers are a must for trucks and small shops, while walk-in coolers and freezers will be necessary for larger venues. For creating your own cones, check into a waffle cone baker.
  • Serveware: You’ll need a way to store, organize, and present serving ware like cups and bowls, utensils, and napkins and there are a number of dispensers that are well-suited for the task. You might also consider a display case, especially if you’re offering baked goods.
  • Bussing and Cleaning: Bussing supplies, dishwashers, and waste receptacles are important components keeping your truck or shop sanitary and welcoming.


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