On the Line / Marketing / 30 Unique Ice Cream Shop Ideas to Inspire Your Theme or Concept

30 Unique Ice Cream Shop Ideas to Inspire Your Theme or Concept

Avoid brain freeze. These 30 ice cream shop ideas will help you stay ahead of your competition.

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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! America’s favorite frozen dessert will never go out of style. Brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which are available nationwide, have leaned into inventive flavors like Everything Bagel ice cream.

Ice cream flavors, varieties, toppings, and formats have evolved over the years to include wacky and wonderful products. Think ice cream tacos, doggy cones, and even liquid nitrogen ice cream. As long as it matches your restaurant branding, the sky is the limit! 

Craving new restaurant ideas? We’ve got you covered.

Inspiration from Real Ice Cream Shop Owners

It takes a little more than zany toppings and unique flavor profiles to formulate an ice cream shop idea. What’s the mission of your shop? What makes you different? Maybe you whip up homemade ice cream using local ingredients to bring a sense of community to your customers. Or perhaps you donate a percentage of profits to a local animal shelter, and have free sweet treats for four-legged friends. 

Below are a few examples of restaurateurs who found truly sweet inspiration. 

“What makes Paris Creperie so popular is that we really try to give a unique customer experience, and we put that above a lot of things. We want people to have a good time, and we want them to enjoy the product. That’s more important than anything else.” Bella Wattles, Supervisor at Paris Creperie.

“We quickly realized that scratch-made desserts are scarce within the Tampa Bay Area, never mind if you wanted to be an adult and pair them with a glass of wine! We decided that a dessert bar was the answer to this problem.” Leslie Ann and Gregg Ciccone, Owners at Swah-Rey.

“We’re devoted to making better ice creams. We believe that you can grow a business as a community of people, with artful attention to detail and the customer experience. That REALLY great ice cream brings people together and helps them connect. Jeni’s vision sparked the artisan ice cream movement.” Jeni’s

30 Unique Ice Cream Shop Ideas

Now that you’ve had a chance to review the “why” behind successful ice cream shops, here are 30 ideas to help you get started.

   1. Make it ‘grammable

Pile up those sundaes so high your guests can’t help but snap a photo for social media. This will spread the word about your business…no marketing dollars required.

 2. Go beyond ice cream

Offer lighter fare. Gelato is characterized by rich, creamy flavors that come in fruit and nut varieties. Frozen yogurt is a popular choice for customers wanting to indulge without the heaviness of regular ice cream.

 3. Take a “the more the merrier” approach

La Casa Gelato in Vancouver, Canada, takes it to the next level with over 238 flavors of ice cream in-store. They officially made the Guinness Book of World Records in November 2019 as the shop with the “Most Commercially Available Flavors.”

4. Try an old fashioned fountain

Soda fountains achieved peak popularity in the 1950s, when they moved from just slinging fizzy drinks to branching out into ice cream cones, floats, sundaes, and banana splits. Housed in a restored 1920s pharmacy, Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain in Brooklyn, New York features signature sundaes and egg creams.

5. Pile on the soft serve

Less dense than ice cream, soft-serve gets its name from the pillowy, satisfying swirls that are layered on top of a cone. Leon’s in Charleston, North Carolina keeps soft-serve simple for customers, offering only chocolate and vanilla with or without rainbow sprinkles.

6. Make artisanal ice cream

Characterized by smaller quantities offered in limited supply, small-batch ice cream shops give business owners flexibility to create unique flavors based on the season, and customer demand. Harmony Valley Creamery in Harmony, California also features pre-packaged small-batch pints and a scoop truck.

7. Serve up local and seasonal flavors

Allow your customers to get into the spirit of the season. Think fruity and tropical flavors for summer, pumpkin spice for fall, and peppermint and eggnog ice cream for winter.

8. Use unique ingredients

Think outside the box by offering unique flavors. Coppa in Juneau, Alaska has a roasted turmeric and candied ginger flavor. Sweet Republic in Scottsdale, Arizona serves up a sweet corn ice cream, while Loblolly Creamery in Little Rock, Arkansas is popular for their buttermilk scoops.  

9. Make on-the-go treats

Ditch the scoops by converting your business into an ice cream bar shop! These hand-held treats are clean, convenient, and delicious.

10. Create a sundae bar experience

Variety is key for sundaes —- from a wide selection of syrups to a range of toppings and a rainbow of sprinkles. 

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11. Offer endless toppings

At American frozen yogurt chain Menchie’s, the toppings are endless with selections such as cheesecake pieces, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese's peanut butter cups, boba, and coconut sprinkles.

12. Get blending 

The growing popularity of Insta-worthy treats is why The Yard Milkshake Bar was featured on Shark Tank. Its “Who’s Your Patty” milkshake features Lucky Charms Cereal Milk ice cream, gold sprinkles, Lucky Charms marshmallows, a sour rainbow strip, and a scoop of Pot-of-Gold cookie dough. Not your average milkshake!

13. Expand into retail

Made extra? Pack your ice cream into pints to sell all season long. 

14. Top it all off 

Featuring unique toppings will set you apart from competitors. Eat This, Not That features candied bacon, french fries, Ritz crackers, and wasabi peas.

15. Go plant-based

Show a little love to the planet with a plant-based ice cream shop. The Los Angeles-based Scoops features vegan flavors like raspberry tiramisu, green tea, and caramel Oreo.

16. Try the best of two worlds

Swap the cone for a taco-shaped waffle shell. Sweet Rolled Tacos features drool-worthy and  unique taco combinations, including Honey Avocado, Black Sesame, and Vietnamese Coffee.

17. Turn to science 

Liquid nitrogen is used to rapidly freeze ice cream, resulting in a richer, denser treat. Mister Artisan Ice Cream in Vancouver, Canada uses the liquid nitrogen process for their hand-crafted ice cream cones.

18. Make ice cream sandwiches

There’s something about smashing a gob of ice cream in between two chewy, delicious cookies that can’t be beat. Coolhaus in Culver City, California features a wide selection of delicious ice cream sammies.

19. Offer dairy-free options 

Skip the dairy altogether by offering customers a tasty, refreshing scoop of sorbet; a delicious combination of water, sugar, and fruit.

20. Be four-legged pal friendly

Man’s best friend deserves a treat, too. Ollie’s Ice Cream + Stuff in Brooklyn, New York invites people and pets to enjoy their scoops. 

21. Lean in to all things sweet

Become a sugar connoisseur in your community, by bringing together a variety of candy, sweets, and of course ice cream. Margie’s Candies in Chicago, Illinois has been cranking out handmade confectionary candy, chocolate, fudge, and ice cream for over 100 years.

22. Switch up the container

Who said ice cream needs to go on a cone? Considered the official dessert of Hungary, chimney cake has the taste and texture of a doughnut, but is shaped in a cylinder like a chimney. The House of Chimney Cakes features a menu of indulgently delicious cake flavors…the perfect accompaniment to ice cream.

23. When in doubt, deep-fry it

A fairground favorite, deep-fried ice cream is the perfect indulgence of sweet, soft, and crunchy. Sam’s Fried Ice Cream in New York deep-fries their ice cream and somehow it doesn’t melt! 

24. Have your cake and eat it too

Ice cream cakes are the perfect dessert for customers celebrating birthdays, weddings, or anniversaries. Bartleby’s Ice Cream Cakes in Chicago pulls out all the stops for every occasion, with gourmet ingredients and vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free options.

25. Cater to keto

The keto diet is all the rage these days, defined by healthy fat consumption, moderate protein, and little to no carbs. Killer Creamery in Meridian, Idaho, serves up pints, ice cream sandwiches, and sample packs of their delicious keto ice cream flavors.

26. Give a thought to presentation 

Instagram-worthy cones will catch the eye of consumers. Perverted Ice Cream in Vancouver, Canada features all-black cones and flavorful ice cream combos with punny names.

27. Add a bar counter

Belly up to the (ice cream) bar. Installing an old-fashioned bar counter and spinny stools creates a communal space where customers of all ages can enjoy sweet treats. Brooklyn, New York’s OddFellows Ice Cream Co. features a vintage aesthetic that gives off soda fountain vibes.

28. Open a pick-up window

Reduce foot traffic by creating an adjacent pick-up window to your ice cream shop! Do customers order pints ahead of time online? Are they needing a gift card? Save time by having them stop by your window.

29. Be a one-stop shop

A quaint throwback to the early 20th century, general stores are the equivalent of today’s 7-11’s or corner stores. Neighbors General Store and Ice Cream Parlour in Port Orange, Florida serves up delectable homemade waffle cones and toppings from scratch!

 30. Take flight

Why choose one when you can have many? Serve up ice cream flights containing four to six flavors of your customer's choosing! 

What comes next?

Now that your ice cream idea is set, it’s time to create a restaurant marketing plan. Chart out realistic goals that are achievable for your new shop. Consider researching small business grants, setting up equipment financing options for your ice cream machine, and keeping track of your inventory as you grow bigger. Your product offerings will vary over time, and your inventory and menu should reflect that.

Consider purchasing a restaurant point of sales system that optimizes the entire payment process, allows for the purchase of gift cards and loyalty programs, and integrates with your accounting and email software.

Your dream ice cream shop is within reach! It just takes a little bit of hard work, planning, and a love for all things sweet. How will you bring your ice cream shop idea to life?

Related Ice Cream Resources

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