Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, a franchise brand of 89 units growing primarily in the Southeast, plans to open up 40 more stores in the next year.
The dessert space has become a crowded field, with ice cream brands, donut shops and cookie places dotting cities across the country. One brand, however, is paving the way for Italian ice to join the fray.
Jeremiah’s Italian ice founder Jeremy Litwack was introduced to Italian ice on the New Jersey Boardwalk while in high school, and he ended up selling Italian ice from a cart outside the Philadelphia Mint.
“He loved the idea of being able to sell a treat that makes pretty much everyone smile,” Devin Schneider, director of brand development for Jeremiah’s, told QSRweb.com in a phone interview. “Who’s not happy selling ice cream?”
Litwack studied marketing at the University of Delaware, and rented a warehouse space in 1992, where he worked on his own Italian ice formula for combining fresh fruit, fruit puree, filtered water and sugar. He saw an untapped market for the ice in the Southeast and would set up a small food truck and ice cart. Once Litwack felt he had the formula down, he checked out some markets in Georgia before looking for a base of operations in Florida.
He ultimately landed in Orlando and opened his first Jeremiah’s Italian Ice in Winter Park in 1996. Over the next 10 years, he opened two more stores in the central Florida region, all the while receiving franchise requests non-stop.
“He wanted to be slow and strategic in his initial growth to make sure he had everything down,” Schneider said.
Litwack continued to develop more flavors and treats. Today, the company has developed more than 40 flavors.
After running three stores for 10 years, Litwack recognized the opportunity to build Jeremiah’s on a national scale, making sure to work out any kinks in his business before franchising and building a corporate team.
In 2018, the brand partnered with Pivotal Growth Partners, and in 2019, a franchise program was launched. In it’s first year of franchising, Jeremiah’s signed 100 agreements.
“The quality of the product, the energy of our team, the culture of our stores and our squads I think was really infectious,” Schneider said. “We just had a ton of demand and interest in the franchise program.”
Today there are 89 Jeremiah’s Italian Ice stores in the U.S. in eight states, primarily in the Southeast. Of those, 19 are corporate units and the remainder are franchised.
Jeremiah’s offers three main menu items: 40-plus Italian ice flavors ranging from fruity, like strawberry, blueberry and a Key West Tropical to rich flavors like Cookie Butter, Café Latte and Pumpkin Pie; high-quality soft ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and a swirl and gelati, the layering of both Italian ice and soft ice cream.
There’s a secret menu available on the brand’s loyalty app, which boasts 450,000 members, creating flavors like Caramel Apple, which blends the sea-salted caramel ice, apple and vanilla ice cream.
Finally, there are layer-ins, like mini chocolate chips, Oreo cookie crumbles and cookie butter crumbles.
“It’s relatively simple; however, the guest customization and options that they have access to in terms of flavor profiles are pretty much endless, which is what makes it so cool,” Schneider said.
Growth and processes
Growth will continue in the Southeast, as the brand is still relatively new to some of those states. Outside of Florida, the biggest growth market is Texas, specifically the Houston area.
“Process is key. Process brings speed,” Schneider said when asked how Jeremiah’s is maintaining continuity across the brand as it grows. “We always remain available and flexible to work one-on-one with our franchisees, but we do have a lot of systems and processes and oversight to ensure that our standards are being upheld not only from product quality but down to the culture that is felt within our stores and the energy that’s felt without our stores for our guests. Our goal is to make sure we’re scooping up flavorful experiences no matter where we’re at and it’s extremely important to us. We hold our brand standards close to our hearts and so we’re seeking out franchisees that we believe align with that culture from the get-go.”
Franchise consultants work with franchisees to help ensure consistency and the brand’s culture are upheld, as well as area representatives who assist in that as well.
Schneider says the Jeremiah’s product stands up against any other Italian ice and does well in a competitive market. The quality is superior, he said, and the standards for the company’s overall business model is high.
“We make sure our product is consistently the best, most refreshing yet indulgent ice you’ll find around,” he added. “On top of that, we do feel that our brand itself is a big part of the selling point. We like our locations to be high energy, bright (and) vibrant, even down to the music. We’re very specific on that.”
Franchisees are expected to be a part of their communities. “It’s extremely important that we become more than a financial transaction for our guests and that we are a venue for making life memories,” Schneider added. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years and we’re even seeing in some markets that we’re the first date spot. Sometimes we’re the place where you ask someone to marry you. We’re the after-church or the after-school hangout. Those kind of milestone memories we want Jeremiah’s to be a venue for.”
By the end of Q1 next year, Jeremiah’s should be hitting its 100th store. In 2023, the brand plans to open 35 to 40 locations.
“We’ve always chosen to be cautious … however we’ve still been able to maintain an exciting growth rate over the last few years as evidenced by the number of stores we have,” Schneider said. “We’ve had a number of incredibly successful locations open up and it’s been really exciting.”