An ice cream chain without freezers eyes national expansion

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Burger King franchising veteran David Leonardo thinks modern consumers will warm up to custom-made,flash-frozen ice cream.

Ever been to a convenience store without refrigerators? A pizza shop without an oven? An ice cream store without freezers?

If you try, you’ll strike out on the first two, but you’ll soon be seeing a lot more of the third option, and David Leonardo is promising that the experience will be a home run.

Leonardo is the CEO of Chill-N Nitrogen, a chain of eight ice cream shops in Florida where customers pick a base (yogurt, sorbet and regular, almond, oat, or coconut milk), flavors such as strawberry or Nutella, and ingredients like nuts and candy, then watch a store staffer whip it up in a mixing bowl and flash freeze it with liquid nitrogen at -320 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We are definitely not the only nitrogen player out there, but what we’ve done is automate the process to make our throughput faster and produce much more ice cream per hour,” said Leonardo, a 20-year franchising veteran of Burger King and Arby’s. “At other nitrogen ice cream shops, you put in an order and sit down and wait 15 minutes. We can make up to 100 cups an hour in our shops.”

Chill-N has hired Needham, Mass.-based Bialow Real Estate to accelerate its expansion in Florida and throughout the Southeast. New locations for the 1,000-to-1,5000-sq.-ft stores will open this spring in Pompano Beach, Orlando, and Plantation in Florida. Texas and Tennessee will be the next stops for what Chill-N expects will be a dozen new locations by the end of 2022.

“Chill-N does better in areas with higher income and education levels,” said Corey Bialow, CEO of Bialow Real Estate. “They’re being careful about their growth and want to grow at a reasonable pace.”

Leonardo joined Chill-N because he felt that its fresh ingredients and the craft and entertainment aspects of its process will appeal to modern consumers, as well as to retail real estate developers.

“Developers are now looking a lot closer at their tenant mixes. They’re paying close attention to how tenants in the center mix with each other,” Leonardo observed. “We can work well with traffic in a center because our automation process makes our throughput much faster. That helps us get more return customers.”

Bialow foresees Chill-N’s expansion going national. Most interested franchising partners are signing on for multiple locations. Though small, Chill-N Nitrogen shops are not inexpensive to open. The liquid nitrogen tanks alone cost $50,000.