Ice cream ranks as America's favorite indulgence, and ice cream store operators utilize an array of equipment to serve customers frozen dessert treats.
The evolution of the modern ice cream industry hinges on the development of industrial refrigeration by German engineer Carl von Linde during the 1870s, eliminating the need for icehouses. The continuous-process freezer was perfected in 1926, allowing for the commercial mass production of ice cream and the birth of the modern ice cream industry.
In the early 20th century, soda shops and ice cream parlors, many offering light food as well, became increasingly popular across the country as a place to grab a bite and an ice cream treat. And the jukeboxes installed in these establishments made them magnets for teenagers from the '30s through the '50s. Nostalgic outposts of the classic ice cream parlor can still be found here and there in the United States, featuring the iconographic marble counters and tables, gooseneck fountain dispensers, twirling stools and curved iron chairs. In museums across the United States, there are working and non-working displays of old-style ice cream parlors and vintage ice cream freezers and scoops, such as at America's Ice Cream and Dairy Museum at Elm Farm in Medna, Ohio.
Today, the United States leads the world in ice cream and related frozen dessert production, churning out about 1.6 billion gallons last year and, according to the USDA's Dairy Facts, Americans spent close to $13 billion on frozen dessert purchases away from home. Besides cones and cups, established and emerging chains offer something for everyone, from super premium ice cream to lighter, lower fat options, and also feature many choices in toppings and mix-ins. Many stores also offer specialty sundaes; blended ice cream drinks; cakes; pies and other backed goods; and products packed to take home.
Cold Stone Creamery, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is the brainchild of ice cream lovers Donald and Susan Sutherland, who tapped into the commodity-turned-premium brand shifts in consumerism over the last couple of decades to create their top-quality, nontraditional customized ice cream concept when they opened their first store in Tempe, Ariz., in 1988. The first store was a big hit, and with a move into franchising, the first Cold Stone Creamery franchise location opened in 1995.
The 1990s saw the resurgence of the popularity of super-premium ice cream — defined by its high fat content, low overrun (amount of air incorporated into the mix during freezing) and top-quality ingredients, and the premium ice cream concept has become a fast-growing segment in the fast-food restaurant business. The Cold Stone Creamery success story, for example, is illustrated in its growth: More than 1,000 stores have opened in the last decade throughout the United States, in the Caribbean and Guam with another 1,000 scheduled to open over the next couple of years.
The growing legion of fans, who choose to ignore calorie and carb counting for some fun indulgence at a destination such as Cold Stone Creamery, are faced with a choice of 12 super-premium (highest butter-fat content) ice cream flavors made fresh daily on-site, along with additional seasonal ice cream flavors. A choice of add-ins, including fresh fruit and nuts, candies or cookie pieces, displayed in glass containers and held in covered plexi containers with portion-sized scoops, are mixed into the ice cream for the customer by a Cold Stone Creamery “team member” on the cold stone that gives the concept its moniker. Toppings for sundaes such as caramel, fudge or marshmallow, held in refrigerated or heated drop-in wells depending on the product, are also popular customer choices. The granite stone built into the front-of-house service cabinetry sits flush with the counter in a recessed, circulating water well, and is kept at a chilly16 °F. by the refrigerant and compressor coils beneath. A layer of frost on the stone is an indication of maintenance of a proper temperature so that ice cream will not melt in the mixing process, and is first scraped off with an ice scraper by the team member before mixing add-ins into the ice cream for service, according to Ken Sanchez, C.P.M, director of equipment purchasing and supply chain management for Cold Stone Creamery.
Dipping and mixing ice cream is a two-handed operation at Cold Stone Creamery, and team members use specially designed “spades” with a broader, slightly curved scoop rather than traditional ice cream dippers. “Team members are encouraged to play around and add a little of their own style while using the dipping spades, to lend a little fun and entertainment to the customer's experience at Cold Stone Creamery,” Sanchez explains. Circulating water wells to hold the spades between uses are bigger than standard dipper wells to accommodate their larger size.
Other FOH equipment supporting operations at Cold Stone Creamery includes a waffle cone making station; refrigerated, glass-fronted display cases for ice cream cakes, outfitted with digital controls and a built-in warning alarm if doors are left ajar and temperatures drop; and ice cream dipping wells. The display cabinet that holds the ice cream dipping wells uses forced-air technology, with air cycled through both top and bottom vents to maintain the proper consistency from the top of the stainless wells to the bottom.
Premium ice cream is made fresh on-site every day at Cold Stone Creamery stores in volumes of up to 4,000 pounds a month, depending on store size and location. Back-of-house, a batch (or continuous) freezer is top-loaded with Cold Stone Creamery's proprietary ice cream ingredients mixture, and internal rotating “dasher” blades keep the mixture moving while it chills, adding air to keep the ice cream from becoming a frozen mass of ingredients. Once loaded into stainless pans, ice cream goes into a hardening cabinet for four to six hours to attain the proper serving consistency, and then may be held in reach-in freezers prior to service. Other equipment found BOH includes three compartment sinks with high-pressure nozzle attachments, a walk-in cooler and freezer, a dry storage area, and a convection oven to prepare brownies, cookies and cake layers.
The specialized equipment that supports the creation and service of products available at Cold Stone Creamery was designed or specified internally, and some pieces were built through partnerships with specific manufacturers. Equipment for all franchisees is provided through Cold Stone Creamery's centralized franchise operations to help ensure consistency and quality at Cold Stone Creamery locations, according to Sanchez. Franchisees attend Cold Stone University, where they learn proper operation of equipment, training techniques for their team members and some basic equipment maintenance tasks such as equipment cleaning and proper cleaning schedules, and changing light bulbs in displays.
“Equipment needs for our concept are somewhat unique and innovative for the ice cream store segment and, initially, we had some problems getting manufacturers to take our ideas for the concept seriously,” Sanchez says. “Ice cream store equipment has evolved over the last five to 10 years and will continue to evolve. It is critical that equipment manufacturers continue to address the improvement of equipment performance while maintaining appropriate cost structures.”
At the other end of the frozen dessert store spectrum, at least in terms of calorie content, is Tasti D-Lite, a family-owned concept created in 1987 by Celeste Carlesimo along with her father, Louis, a food technologist. Tasti D-Lite locations provide New York City residents with a place to grab a delicious, all-natural, low-calorie, low-fat or no-carb frozen dessert. Obviously, these Tasti D-Lite attributes serve to make the concept very popular, and the chain now operates 75 independently owned stores found throughout NYC, and in Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Texas and Illinois.
Tasti D-Lite is a unique version of soft-serve ice cream and yogurts, developed in the 20th century after a chemical research team in Britain, of which a young Margaret Thatcher was a member, discovered a method of adding more air to ice cream products. The process allowed manufacturers to use less of the actual ice cream ingredients and save money, and it turned out that many consumers liked the lighter texture and flavor. Many major ice cream manufacturers now use this process to some extent, and the versions of soft-serve ice cream that are served from specific equipment dispensers that add a curlicue on top contain the most air, called overrun.
“The Tasti D-Lite concept is different from soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt because of the low-fat properties developed for the proprietary base mixes,” says Gertrude Bakel, foodservice and marketing consultant for the concept. “A direct corollary to those attributes in terms of equipment is that machines used to prepare and serve the Tasti D-Lite product at the point of sale must be air-pump rather than gravity machines to attain the desired overrun consistency.”
Eric Herrmann, technical consultant for Tasti D-Lite, explains, “Basically because we use such a low-fat base mix, it's more difficult to achieve the desired overrun level with many of the machines on the market. By exploring various manufacturers' equipment through trial-and-error over the last 20 years since Celeste Carlesimo created the concept, we discovered the air-pump machine that best suits our needs. It is very beneficial that the design includes a few simple mechanisms that allow the operator to make adjustments to hit that 75-percent air-overrun target, (for example, peanut butter, the most popular flavor, is slightly denser and so requires a little overrun tweaking), and this particular machine is also very easy to clean and maintain, another bonus for us.”
The air-pump machine is recommended to all Tasti D-Lite licensees (stores are independently owned, not franchised). An equipment distributor located on Long Island, N.Y., generally supplies licensees with the air-pump preparation and service machines as well as other equipment used to support Tasti D-Lite store operations, including heated pump dispensers and wells for toppings and cone dipping, a special spindle blender for swirling topping mix-ins through a blended dessert beverage, and a name-brand smoothie blender with a plexi cover to produce smoothies that have just been added to store menus. Key to operations is an industrial-style, one-gallon blender, which is used by operators to mix batches of the rotating choice of flavors, created from basic chocolate or vanilla base mix. Also key to store operations is a double-door, lowboy refrigerator located under the front counter in stores, designed to serve double duty as convenient storage for mix, and providing needed refrigeration for toppings held in display-style on top of the unit in stainless wells.
Several universities in the United States, including Brigham Young, Provo, Utah; Washington State, Pullman, Wash.; and Penn State, University Park, Pa., have operated their own on-campus dairies for decades, providing fresh ice cream and other products to students, local residents and campus visitors. The University Creamery at Penn State is one of the largest, producing about 250,000 gallons of ice cream in 2005, according to Tom Palchuk, creamery manager. Dairy science instruction has been offered for students at Penn State since 1895. The University has also been offering an “Ice Cream Short Course” continuously since 1925, drawing dairy manufacturers, wholesalers and owners of “mom-and-pop” operations from all over the world to learn about safely producing quality ice cream.
Ice cream lovers in search of a treat at Penn State University head for the University Creamery store, located in its current incarnation in the Department of Food Science's Borland Laboratory building since 1961. Getting ice cream at the Creamery has been a tradition at the University since 1889, when the first University Creamery store opened for business, and one reason for the enthusiasm is that the rich ice cream served there is so fresh, that only about four days generally elapse between the cow and that dipped cone or milk shake.
The University Creamery at Penn State expects to move into a new Food Science building featuring new, expanded state-of-the-art creamery production areas and University Creamery store. The soft opening is scheduled for June 12, 2006.
Changes in the equipment used in the ice cream manufacturing area of the new creamery are dramatic, now incorporating digital touch-screen controlling methods, according to Palchuk. “Because of public health issues involving food safety, regulatory acceptance for new equipment can be a lengthy process. Foodservice equipment processes must have a proven track record in addressing and preventing foodborne illnesses,” he comments, “and this is best viewed as a cooperative effort between the food producers, the FDA, and equipment designers and manufacturers.” In the new Creamery production area, equipment processes built for the filling and emptying of tanks — during pasteurization, the addition of flavorings, continuous freezing and transferring ice creams to three-gallon containers prior to hardening — are designed with touch-screen controls. “Not only does this cut down on system failures caused by the wear and tear of the old electro-magnetic controls, it also provides operators with a view of tank filling and emptying progress without having to open up the tanks, cutting down on risks of airborne contamination in the ice cream creation process,” explains Palchuk.
The University Creamery store in the new Food Science building is also being expanded — more than doubling in size, from 1,400-square-feet to 3,700-square-feet. Up until now, dipping cabinets in the store held 21 three-gallon tubs of 21 different flavors of ice cream, but in the new location, new dipping cabinets have the capacity for holding 30 tubs, so new flavors may be added to the store's ice cream offerings, according to James Brown, assistant manager at the Creamery. The sleek new stainless, refrigerated dipping cabinets are built with hinged, plexi covers and feature a new ergonomically correct design in height and width for ease of staff dipping duties. Malts and shakes are popular items at the Creamery, whipped up in stainless mixer containers on spindle-type blenders. The three sets of three spindle blenders have been expanded to five sets of three in the new Creamery store and the three point-of-sale registers are also expanding to five register stations. The Creamery store also includes a walk-in freezer and cooler for stocking take-home products, accessible to customers from glass reach-in doors on the front side.
“We're looking forward to the increased efficiency and effectiveness in handling our Creamery customers in our new location,” Brown says. “On football game days, we would have people waiting in lines for two or three blocks at our old location.”
Key E&S for Ice Cream Shops