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A Cherry On Top: Opening An Ice Cream Parlor Or Sundae Bar

Starting an ice cream parlor, or even opening a sundae bar at existing restaurant, can be a much larger undertaking than business owners think.  For those looking to break into the ice cream business, or those looking to expand their dessert variety with ice cream, there are some essentials that need to be examined, and for those who wish to go above and beyond for their clientele, there are some optional add-ons as well.  Let’s take a look at the basic equipment needed for any ice cream shop, and then the various types of ice cream operations and the specific equipment required get them off the ground.

Ice Cream Essentials:  There are some important items that are essential for every ice cream operation, regardless of what type or volume of ice cream they are selling.

  • Condiment Systems / Topping Stations – For any and all ice cream operations, especially those offering sundaes, a way to store / display toppings is a must.  Many ice cream condiment stations are refrigerated as many of the toppings, such as sprinkles or cherries, should not be left at room temperature.  Depending on your operation, you can choose from a wide range of countertop topping stations (many of which have condiment pumps) or larger ones with frozen storage underneath them, or even refrigerated cold wells for displays like sundae bars.  Additionally, there are some heated condiment pumps that are intended for use for items such as hot fudge or caramel.
  • Paper Goods Dispensers / Dishes – Since most ice cream shops serve to-go style ice cream, paper goods and their respective dispensers are a must.  Things like plastic sundae bowls, cups, napkins, plastic spoons, straws, and even ice cream cones will need dispensers in front or behind the counter.  For those operations serving ice cream in-house, such as sundae bars or restaurants that offer ice cream as a dessert option, sundae glasses, spoons, & bowls will be necessary.  In addition to this, topping stations in all ice cream shops will need spoons, paring knives for bananas, and there will also be some operation-specific smallwares that will also be required for one task or another.
  • Milkshake Mixers / Blender – Milkshakes and malts are on the menu at most ice cream shops, and there are a few different ways to make them.  The “old fashioned” way is with a traditional milkshake mixer.  These feature a metal agitating arm that mixes the milkshake inside one of a classic metal tumbler.  Depending on your operation’s volume, a machine with more than one agitator arm may be necessary, as well as a supply of metal milkshake tumblers (they are usually not included, and are often used to serve the remainder of the shake).  The other way businesses make milkshakes happen is with a commercial blender.  Depending on the power of the blender, it could potentially speed the process up, however, the primary reasons businesses have begun opting for a traditional blender is to expand their menu.  Commercial blenders allow businesses to make fruit smoothies, or dress their milkshakes up with small bits.  Both machines clean fairly easily, however commercial blenders can save business owners with precisely measured portions, and spare them from having to purchase metal tumblers.
  • Refrigerated Storage – In addition to the required freezers for particular ice cream, ice cream shops will need additional refrigerated storage.  Items such as reach-in freezers or coolers for extra ingredients, topping storage, or ice cream tub storage will be necessary both at the counter and in the back-of-the-house.  Additionally, some ice cream shops may need a chest freezer or novelty case for any assorted novelties they may offer.
  • Waffle Cone Makers – Fresh waffle cones are a favorite for many customers.  Their smells entice many consumers, and are a nice option for shops to offer.  Waffle cone makers are similar to standard waffle irons, but have shallower grooves and smaller checker patterns.  These cones can be pre-made and be stored at room temperature.
  • Whip Cream Dispensers – Many ice cream shops still make their own whip cream, and a whip cream dispenser is necessary to aerate the heavy cream for service.  Additionally, an electric mixer may be necessary to make this cream base.
  • Dishwashers / Sinks / Cleaning Supplies – Every ice cream shop will have some dishes, though some may not have as many as others.  A dishwasher, mops, sinks, and other supplies will still be required for the necessary cleaning to be done.
  • Furniture – Every ice cream stand will still need to have seating for customers; however since most are open only in the summer, or have limited seating areas, patio style dining furniture and umbrellas are often the norm.

Soft Serve Operations & Sundae Bars:  Both soft serve ice cream operations and sundae bars offer soft ice cream to their clientele.  Though how those businesses supply their customers may differ, the types of equipment and product will not.

  • Soft Serve / Frozen Yogurt Machine – A soft serve or frozen yogurt is 100% essential to serving soft serve ice cream.  They blend and freeze soft serve batches perfectly and keep them at consistent temperatures for serving.  Soft serve machines come in a wide range of sizes, and service operations can often get away with owning smaller machines as there is usually someone to refill and make new batches.  Since sundae bars are usually self-serve, and customers will often take excessive amounts, sundae bars usually require larger or floor standing machines.  High volume ice cream stands will often opt for larger machines as well to reduce the amount of times they must refill the machine, and decrease any potential waits for customers.
  • Heat Wells / Warmers – Heat wells and warmers may not seem like they have a place in an ice cream shop, however they can often be needed for sundae toppings or items like cone dips. 
  • Cold Wells – Cold wells are traditionally used on sundae bars to display toppings and keep them fresh.  More often than not they are built into a counter similar to a buffet.

Hard Ice Cream Operations:  Ice cream operations that serve hard ice cream operate differently than soft serve operations, and require a number of different accessories to dispense their frozen treats.

  • Dipping Cabinets – Dipping cabinets are the best way to store tubs of hard ice cream so it is visible to customers.  These dipping cabinets come in a wide range of sizes, and come in sizes that can accommodate anywhere from 4 to 28 or more 5 gal. tubs of ice cream.  Additional freezer space will be required to store backup ice cream.
  • Dipping Cabinet & Hard Ice Cream Accessories – Dipping cabinets require basket racks to keep tubs stationary, plastic lids to keep the ice cream from freezer burn, and what are known as “skirts”.  Skirts are plastic inserts that rest on the basket racks that catch any spilled ice cream to ease cleanup.  Skirts can also be an ideal spot to place labels or nameplates for customers to identify what options are available.  Dipper stations should be featured on or nearby a dipping cabinet as well to keep ice cream scoops clean; dividers, scoops and faucets are regularly a part of this station.
  • Frozen Stone – The frozen surfaces known as “frozen stones” are a growing trend in the service of hard ice cream.  These non-porous frozen surfaces are built into a counter, and have a refrigerated element below that keep the surface icy cold.  These surfaces are intended to allow customers to custom build their ice cream cone by having their server add ingredients directly into the ice cream.  The warm air combined with the frozen stone make the ice cream just malleable enough to incorporate ingredients without melting.

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