How can an ice cream shop survive winter?
February 21, 2008 1:16 PM   Subscribe

What could a small ice cream/frozen yogurt shop start selling in the colder months to keep business alive?
posted by logic vs love to Food & Drink (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Really really good hot chocolate, like Burdick's in Harvard Square.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2008

cookies? cupcakes? coffee?
posted by answergrape at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2008

Milk-based warm drinks like hot chocolate and lattes? Holiday-themed ice cream flavors?
posted by tastybrains at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2008

warm things! hot coffee/chai/chocolate, smores, warmed brownies/cakes. things with hot fudge. mabye even soups. easy stuff thats dessertish and warms one up.
posted by Mach5 at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2008

Crafts? Books? Coffee? Hot Chocolate? PS3/Xbox/Wii access?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2008

posted by acorncup at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2008

All kinds of hot chocolate, including that really thick kind that is almost like a pudding.
posted by mikepop at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2008

Coffee, tea, and baked goods. To take an example, Blue Marble Ice Creamis a small ice cream shop in Brooklyn that actually opened for business as the weather started to get cold. It has been thriving nevertheless on its coffee etc. business through the winter. (I'm not affiliated with the shop, it's just a local business I frequent.)
posted by brain_drain at 1:25 PM on February 21, 2008

Sandwiches, coffee, desserts, hot chocolate, etc. Every needs a good dessert place.

There's a new gelato place in my 'hood that does exactly this. And this is Toronto cold, not San Francisco cold. Although a surprising number of people buy gelato when the air is colder than the gelato.
posted by GuyZero at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2008

Gingerbread ice cream.

Glacier Ice Cream in Boulder, CO makes it only in the winter and ye gods, it is so good. I'd strangle a chimp with my bare hands if it meant they'd make it in the summer.
posted by Nelsormensch at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2008

soups. rotating soups.
posted by alkupe at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2008

I like the idea of following the coffee shops' model with special seasonally available ice cream flavors - pumpkin, cinnamon, gingerbread, peppermint, egg nog, Groundhog Day (you invent it, I have no idea what it is!), Sweet Hearts (ditto) for Valentine's, George Washington Cherry....make a big deal about it when the flavors come and go. To increase the warm appeal, offer them served as a scoop atop a warmed brownie, blondie, or cookie.

Hot chocolate, really good hot chocolate, should not be underrated. It is a fabulous beverage when made really well. Load it up with whipped cream and serve it in a big or super fancy mug.

My (New England) town actually keeps two ice cream shops in business even in the dead of winter. Part of the secret is their hours - they keep late hours Thursday through Sunday to catch the after-dinner and nightlife crowd. One place stays open til 9 and the other until 10, and damn if people don't drop in for desserts.

This might be a great time for in-store events, too - demos, book signings, Root Beer Float and Scrabble Night, stuff like that. Once people are in the door and they can smell the sweet delicious ice cream, I bet they'll buy it.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Many ice cream shops just continue to sell ice cream during the winter. Demand is not as high for ice cream, but it's probably easier than trying to retool an ice cream shop into a coffee shop or something else for part of the year.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2008

-continue to serve a select few flavors of ice cream (wintery flavors like gingerbread, pumpkin pie etc) alone or over hot brownies
-warm chocolate pudding
-cocoa that's served with marshmallows that come in all different flavors like ice cream does
-warm mulled apple cider
-hot popcorn
-warm cookies
-spiced chai
posted by iconomy at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2008

As everyone else has said, hot drinks. Other hot desserts would be great too, particularly if they're harder to find elsewhere - think homemade donuts or molten lava cakes. Evening hours are key - I've gotten ice cream a few times this winter after dinner. If you're in a place with students, wireless internet access will lure them in, and coffee will keep them loyal. Also, a gelato place near me makes wonderful combinations of ice cream and coffee. Ice cream alone might seem cold, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in hot coffee, or a shot of espresso poured over chocolate ice cream, works perfectly in winter.
posted by bassjump at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2008

Hot food = equipment + training + licensing + plumbing + hoods + inventory = huge hassle. Not feasible, I'm guessing.

See what the rules are for cookies and candies prepared off-premise and packaged for sale. You may be able to get away with making those items in your home kitchen and selling them at the shop.

Same for cakes and tortes and pies.

Everyone likes pie and ice cream.

And coffee, of course.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:42 PM on February 21, 2008

soups. rotating soups.
Like these guys.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2008

I'm actually going to break with the pack here and suggest fruity ice cream. Specifically, fruits (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) associated with summer. I find that this time of year, I crave strawberry and cherry ice cream, because I cannot find any decent strawberries or cherries to satisfy my taste for that fruit. Anecdotal, to be sure, but I know I am not alone with my summer fruit fixations in the cold dark months of winter.
posted by msali at 1:47 PM on February 21, 2008

Adding to the good answers: Specialize in one thing, don't add a bunch. Special hot chocolate, good coffee, warm pudding, etc. One thing that you can put on the outdoor signage that grabs cold people's attention (and that differs from nearby shops). Some Marketing 101. Good luck.
posted by artdrectr at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2008

Arby's used to sell eggnog milkshakes during the holiday season. They were great! So maybe that and eggnog.
posted by Daddy-O at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2008

This article suggests that ice cream products like ice cream cake and pints and quarts of ice cream are less seasonal than individual ice cream cones. So that might be something to add.
posted by phoenixy at 2:06 PM on February 21, 2008

Hot apple cider. I mean really - it's just hot apple juice with a cinnamon stick, easy peasy. I'd go with the hot drinks though -and I like the idea of a scoop of ice cream floating in some hot choc or coffee. And these are things that can be served year round - just amp up the advertising of them during colder months

I also love warm pudding served over cold ice cream. Mmmmm.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:07 PM on February 21, 2008

Nthing the seasonal ice cream flavors and hot drinks/desserts.

If it's a large enough shop and you can afford it, make sure you have comfy seating (and that it's away from the door so your customers don't get drafty!) Lots of people want ice cream no matter what the season, but nobody wants to carry an ice cream cone outside when there's a negative fourteen windchill. Make your shop a welcoming place for people to linger and enjoy their ice cream, where they can wait until their stomach warms back up before venturing out into the cold.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2008

Do you make it from scratch on site? Could you offer classes or a 'make your signature flavor of ice cream' sort of thing a la eCreamery?
posted by Atom12 at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2008

baked goods and hot drinks.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2008

Crepes? Waffles? Something sweet and warm . . .
posted by that girl at 2:22 PM on February 21, 2008

Hot apple cider.

Oh yes indeedy - and in the last couple years, someone's brilliant idea has been blowing the collective mind of the Northeast, already a hive of apple activity:

Caramel hot apple cider.

Incredible! It's deLICious. Just hot apple cider with a dollop of caramel syrup in the bottom of the cup. Quick stir, and instant delight.
posted by Miko at 2:23 PM on February 21, 2008

Damn good ice cream.

Once you have that, maybe a few other choice items that are equally damn good. Coffee or baked goods are what I see the most, and that seem to make sense.

Free wifi with purchase.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:25 PM on February 21, 2008

There's an ice cream shop nearby that stays open year-round with the same menu, and even in winter whenever I drive by there are people in there. I guess if your ice cream is delicious enough people will still crave it in sub-zero temperatures.
posted by waxboy at 2:25 PM on February 21, 2008

Josh n John's in Colorado Springs offers extra punches on their free ice cream cards depending on the weather, and it actually boosts sales.

From the website:
The colder it gets, the more punches you get per item you buy!

15 punches = 1 regular scoop

Any weather: 1 punch
Raining or below 40°: 2 punches
Below 32°: 3 punches
Snowing: 5 punches
Below 0°: 15 punches
posted by idiotfactory at 2:27 PM on February 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Just sell ice cream. Business will go down some, but not dry up. People don't' go for months on end without wanting a sweet.

I do however like the idea of a hot brownie. Just don't stop selling it over the summer.
posted by cschneid at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2008

Egger's, the ice cream parlor of my youth, sold homemade chocolates and gift baskets with seasonal themes.
posted by Soliloquy at 2:29 PM on February 21, 2008

An ice cream place in my market discounts the ice cream by the temperature - the colder it is, the cheaper the ice cream. This is in Minnesota, so it gets pretty cold. They become a destination spot when it gets really really cold, and is usually booming when it gets way down there.

They also have the gingerbread/peppermint/egg nog winter flavors, and we get many-a-pint each year.
posted by ochenk at 2:29 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The ice cream store I worked at in high school sold Christmas trees. Not really a winter round thing, but that's what they did. I like the idea of staying open and serving warm desserts though.
posted by fermezporte at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2008

Hot drinks, particularly ones that are at least as bad for you as a container of ice cream. E.g., really good hot cocoa (made with whole milk, tons of cocoa and sugar, real whipped cream), Starbucksy-type frappuchinos ... basically anything that's essentially warm ice cream served in a coffee cup. Think drinkable dessert; those things sell well and they have high profit margins. (Best bet would be to underprice them relative to Starbucks and Dunkin.)

Baked goods might work too, but I don't think they bring in customers in the same way that hot drinks would.

Ice cream still sells in some stores even in the winter (heck, I buy it) as long as there's somewhere to sit and eat it. Personally I don't order ice cream cones in the winter, there's just something weird about it, but I still enjoy ice cream regardless of the season.

Maybe they could even go for some combination of baked goods and ice cream ... thinking like brownie sundaes, but heavier on the hot baked goods, light on the ice cream. Might be something to experiment with at least.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:46 PM on February 21, 2008

In Pittsburgh there's a Ben and Jerry's that shares a location with a bagel joint. The key there is complementary hours. Even in the middle of the summer, the long lines for bagels are in the morning and the long lines for ice cream are in the afternoon, so they don't conflict.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:53 PM on February 21, 2008

Really good hot chocolate, certainly, and other hot drinks like coffee and tea and chai and cider. But getting people hooked on your ice cream works too: an ever-changing array of weird and awesome flavors. Other desserts that mix warm and cold are good as well - floats and sundaes. WiFi & good seating can help make your ice cream shop a destination in the winter. Similarly, evening hours are good - you want people can stop in and relax for a bit after work or after classes. During the summer, you may be overcrowded, but during the cold months, it's not a bad thing to have people hanging out for a while, and buying more stuff. (Tosci's, JP Licks, Harrell's, etc. in Boston all make it through the Boston winter fine. Tosci's making it through the tax season, not so much, but...)

But oh god, for me: Good hot chocolate above anything else. I'm currently an ocean away from Burdick's (as mentioned at the top of the thread) and rueing every single mile.
posted by ubersturm at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2008

There's an ice cream shop across the street from my apartment, attached to a mall. Even when it's -40C people still buy ice cream. I think the key is that they have an entrance into the mall. I've lined up for 20 minutes to get ice cream when it was -30 outside. So I guess to answer your question, the ice cream shop could sell ice cream.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2008

(Hot) apple pie a la mode!

And yes, (hot) brownie sundaes as someone recommended. Also, hot fudge sundaes. Yes, it's ice cream, but I've gone to Friendly's twice in the past month, and gotten a sundae both times.

Dunkin' Donuts has white hot chocolate. It's delicious, but I can only imagine how good it would be if it was made with more "wholesome" and real ingredients.

Aside: don't just offer great products like these, but advertise them to make sure people come in. I don't think about ice cream much during the winter, but if I saw a billboard (okay, extreme example for a small shop) with a delicious hot fudge sundae or a steaming ice cream sundae with ice cream on top and a cup of hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick coming out of it, I'd think, "Gee, I haven't had ice cream in a while!"

Are you an outdoor shop? That would limit some things, though people could eat in their cars.

Oh! A place near where I live has a fried dough sundae, which is heaven on earth! Piping hot fried dough, with a bit of cinnamon-sugar and powered sugar, with a hot fudge sundae on top. I'm sure it's totally unhealthy, but try telling my tastebuds that.

*has a major sweet tooth now, thanks to this thread*
posted by fogster at 3:18 PM on February 21, 2008

As odd a mental image as a steaming ice cream sundae with ice cream on top is, I meant a steaming slice of apple pie with ice cream on top.
posted by fogster at 3:21 PM on February 21, 2008

I worked in an ice cream shop for a winter when I was young. Not being terribly concerned about how things looked, I used to heat up my soup in one of the coffee pots. Invariably:

"What IS that in the coffee pot?"
"Oh! (pause) Can I get soup?"

They would've bought it straight out of the coffee pot. I'm going with soup.
posted by kmennie at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2008

Slightly OT, this reminds me of a shop in my neighborhood called Gene's Costumes. The shop is part of a house, and I think the guy who runs it (and has been there forever) owns the house and has a pension, since he has to make 90% of his income at Halloween, with perhaps some customers around New Year's and Mardi Gras.
posted by bad grammar at 5:19 PM on February 21, 2008

Maybe something like a hot fudge sundaes or really any kind of sundae. Maybe one with cinnamon ice cream and warm apples, vanilla ice cream and warm gingerbread etc. Baked goods like muffins, cupcakes, and pastries are a good idea too.
posted by peperoxors at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2008

I just had gelato for lunch today (14 degrees out) but maybe I'm weird.
posted by nax at 5:56 PM on February 21, 2008

My favorite frozen yogurt place has seasonal flavors. They make a killing year round! But then again, their calorie count is 8-25 calories per ounce.
posted by 6:1 at 6:19 PM on February 21, 2008

Can you put in an espresso machine? If you do, you can also add Gelato Affogato to the menu. It's a shot of steaming hot espresso over two scoops of really good vanilla ice cream.
posted by marsha56 at 6:39 PM on February 21, 2008

The yogurt place near me is one of those newfangled yogurt places that doesn't sweeten it much and adds fresh fruit and nuts and granola. They sell the following things:

-frozen yogurt
-fresh, non-frozen yogurt
-gourmet coffee
-good hot chocolate
-steel cut oatmeal

The oatmeal works because you can put the same toppings in the oatmeal as you can put in the fresh/frozen yogurt. That way no matter what the temperature, there's something to eat there.
posted by crinklebat at 6:49 PM on February 21, 2008

This model in Ithaca, NY for cookies, brownies, etc. may work. Baskin Robbins locations serve Dunkin Donuts in parts of the Northeast, and that seems to work well (though I don't suggest you sell out to either)...
posted by j1950 at 7:51 PM on February 21, 2008

Push package ice cream harder. No matter how cold, people still devour quarts and half-gallons at home. They're just less likely to pop in for that spontaneous cone.
posted by sourwookie at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2008

The gelato shop near me has winter specials such as 1/2 price banana splits on Saturdays and 2 for 1 sundaes on Sunday. Going in the summer is a treat, but I've never eaten so many banana splits in my life as I have this winter.
posted by carolr at 3:58 AM on February 22, 2008

A local Cold Stone Creamery just moved Soup Man this season to sell, you guessed it, soup.

A nearby Tasti D-Lite is owned by the same people who own an adjoining crêperie.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:32 PM on February 25, 2008

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