When it comes to starting an ice cream shop, having the right tools of the trade is vital to your fledgling business’ success. Knowing what product you’ll serve, how much space you have, and your budget will go a long way to shaping what you’ll need. In this guide, you’ll learn more about some of the essential ice cream equipment and supplies to get you started on this frosty journey.
It all starts with the equipment. Your largest investment will be in the equipment you purchase to serve and make your ice cream, soft-serve, or another frozen treat. Below is a list of popular equipment to consider for your ice cream parlor or shop.
The dipping cabinet is the heart of any ice cream shop. The dipping cabinet is where the magic happens for your customers looking to have a hand-dipped delight. The ice cream dipping cabinet holds three-gallon tubs of ice cream for display and serving and offers additional space to store extra tubs, saving you time from having to leave the area to get replacement gallons from the back.
There are two main types of dipping cabinet: glass-top display cabinets, and flip-lid cabinets.
Glass-top display cabinets are the front-of-the-house units that you’ll see in most ice cream parlors. These dipping cabinets have either a flat or curved glass front that allows customers to see the product before they buy it. The glass top also serves as a sneezeguard, keeping germs from customers from reaching the product. Another benefit is the ability to place items on top of the glass, such as sample spoons and waste receptacles for the spoons.
Flip-lid cabinets are best for back-of-the-house serving of products. These units do not have a display to view product; rather, they have compartments covered by hinged steel lids to keep product cold when not in use. If you aren’t going to have a customer-facing area (such as an ice cream truck), this would be a good option to have.
If gelato is going to be a part of your business, then you need to know the difference between a gelato merchandiser and a dipping cabinet. On the surface, they look very similar in build and appearance. However, a gelato merchandiser is designed to hold pans of gelato, rather than the three-gallon tubs a dipping cabinet holds. You serve gelato at a higher temperature than ice cream, so a gelato merchandiser is a better bet for ensuring that your product doesn’t get too frozen or hard to scoop. Gelato should be very creamy and rich, so allowing it to maintain that quality is of utmost importance to both you and your customers.
Chest freezers are ideal for storing a lot of ice cream! These economical freezers are a perfect choice for bulk storage in your establishment. Simple to operate, with a large hinged lid for quick access to your ice cream. Most chest freezers also come with a lock to keep your product secure during non-business hours.
Depending on your business, soft-serve machines can be a great addition to your traditional ice cream parlor, or they can be the main attraction for frozen yogurt businesses. Soft-serve machines come in several different configurations to fit your operating needs. Typically, soft-serve or frozen yogurt machines have anywhere from one to three hoppers to store your product mix. The more hoppers you have, the more flavors you can offer in one machine. Some machines offer a ‘twist’ feature that lets your customers mix flavors. Putting complementary flavors in these machines will provide the best chance of success selling your product (it can be as simple as chocolate and vanilla, or complex, like strawberry and birthday cake).
Floor model soft-serve machines are necessary for medium- to high-volume production. If soft-serve or frozen yogurt is going to be the main focus of your shop, then floor models are recommended. Floor models have the benefit of only needing open floor space, as well as the ability to have multiple hoppers. Remember – the more hoppers you have, the greater the production capacity of the machine.
Countertop soft-serve machines are more convenient if space is an issue, or if soft-serve/frozen yogurt won’t be your main product. Countertop models are perfect for low- to medium-volume operations, and are easier to implement into your business without the investment of a floor model.
Additional Features for Soft Serve Machines
As you shop for a soft-serve machine, you may see certain models advertised with special features such as an air pump or hopper agitator. These are premium additions that create a higher upfront cost but can produce a major benefit over the long run.
Air pumps are designed to, well, pump air into your soft-serve mix before it freezes, making it a lighter, creamier product. The main benefit of an air pump is that it uses less mix per serving, allowing you to stretch your mix further while reducing your cost per serving.
Hopper agitators save you valuable time by slowly stirring the product inside the hopper throughout the day. What this does is keep your product consistent and prevents it from separating. Without a hopper agitator, you will be required to stir your product manually to maintain the product consistency.
If you’re looking to offer pre-packaged frozen novelty treats, a freezer merchandiser would be a great addition. These display freezers drive impulse buys of novelties such as Drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches, and popsicles. Their glass lid allows the product to be visible without constant opening and closing of the lid.
Ice Cream Supplies
Once you have your equipment figured out, you’ll want to start getting your supplies ready. Having the right supplies for your ice cream shop will only make your business more efficient. Here are some must-haves to round out your ice cream parlor.
Dipper wells are essential accessories for an ice cream shop. A dipper well consists of a stainless steel bowl and faucet, providing a constant flow of water to rinse out ice cream scoops and spades, preventing the transfer of flavors and cross-contamination. Dipper wells can be attached to the side of a dipping cabinet, providing quick access for workers to clean their scoops.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an ice cream shop without a sundae! Condiment stations come in a ton of varieties, from refrigerated to non-refrigerated stations, and are the ideal place to hold toppings from chocolate and strawberry syrup, cherries, berries, pineapple and more! Also known as topping rails, condiment stations sometimes combine jars for storage with dispensing pumps, giving you more freedom to plan out your sundae flavors and toppings.
Oh, fudge! Only we didn’t say fudge…wait, yes we did! If you want to offer hot fudge, caramel, or butterscotch in your ice cream shop, then a hot topping server/warmer is needed. Hot topping warmers come either with ladles or pumps to dispense the product. Pumps will provide more accurate portion control but can be harder to clean. Most hot topping servers will accommodate #10 cans, eliminating the need to transfer product from the can to the warmer.
Heated dip servers are fantastic for serving up dipped soft-serve cones. These servers also hold #10 cans, with flanges at the top to prevent dripping into the warmer.
Ice cream cone dispensers prevent breakage and contamination while keeping cones fresh for your customers.
Cylindrical dispensers will hold cake, waffle or sugar cones (size depends on the model), and can be either stainless steel or plastic construction. Stands are available which hold two to three dispensers at a time, giving you the option to house different types of cones in one stand.
Boxed cone dispensers are designed to hold pre-packaged boxed cones. Replacement is simple: take the empty box out and replace it with a new box. It also comes with a hinged door to keep the cones fresh when not in use.
Acrylic topping bins will hold all types of dry ice cream toppings, from candy pieces to cereal to marshmallows. Some bins are stackable, saving you valuable space.
Protect your three-gallon tubs of ice cream with an ice cream saver. An ice cream saver is a round plastic disk with a handle that fits inside an ice cream tub, preventing freezer burn and oxidation. The edge also scrapes off any ice cream left on the side of the container.
For the perfect hand-dipped portion of ice cream, you will need an ice cream scoop or spade. Ice cream scoops come in different scooping capacities, giving you the ability to control what the serving size will be. Ice cream spades don’t have a rounded end like scoops; they have a flat end which is perfect for getting the last bit of ice cream out of the tub. If you are looking to have a store similar to a Coldstone Creamery, you can use an ice cream spade to mix in toppings with the ice cream.
Hopefully, this guide has given you the start you need to get your ice cream store up and ready to go. If you ever need personalized attention or guidance, our Product Consultants are available to provide a guided shopping experience to help you fit your budget and needs.
Cody Bell is a content specialist with Central Restaurant Products. With over 7 years of experience in the foodservice industry, Cody has developed knowledge on topics from all aspects of commercial foodservice, from the front of the house to back of the house. He is a NAFEM Certified Foodservice Professional. In his free time, Cody likes to spend time with his wife and puppy.