When Debra Arrato turned 50, she decided to pursue a long-held dream of owning an ice cream parlor. Fast forward some scoops later, and Ice Cream Emergency was born. We spoke to the self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur about what it was like to create her cool company, what it’s like working with your spouse, and how she wants to see Ice Cream Emergency buses in every state—stat.
When did you start Ice Cream Emergency?
We started this about five year ago. We started franchising a little over two years ago. We have our corporate bus, which we named Cynthia. We have four other franchises, and all of the buses are female.
What was life like prior to Ice Cream Emergency?
I’m a serial entrepreneur. I did four businesses in over 20 years. I would make it profitable and then turn it around and sell it. In between each one, my passion has always been to own an ice cream parlor. The timing just wasn’t right, though. I hit 50 a few years ago, and I said if we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it. I said to Tony, “Let’s go mobile. Let’s bring the ice cream to the people.” And we did.
Food trucks are huge. It is going to be the way things are going to be.
People want home-based items or services, so if you can bring it to them, it lends itself to the way of the future. And we are looking to grow Ice Cream Emergency to all 50 states, especially the southern states, because they can stay open all year round. We can too, because we are heated and air conditioned. We would love Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, California. We cater to corporate as well as schools.
What can people expect when they come on the bus?
When they come in the bus, it’s happiness. It smells good, we only use a high quality ice cream, between 14-16% buttermilk. It’s extremely rich and creamy. The toppings make you feel like you’re in a candy store. We had a grandmother come on the bus and tell us, “You made me feel like a kid again.” How cool is that?
It’s sweet in here but it also has a cool retro vibe like a parlor. Plus, we are rescue-themed. We cater to the hospitals, to the EMT teams, and to doctors. Because when they come onto our rescue vehicle, there’s nothing bad. It’s a happy feeling; it’s infectious.
And you’re a scoopologist.
Yes, I am. I wear a stethoscoop. We wear badges as well. All of the quotes are medically related, like, “Just what the doctor ordered.” And my husband designed the bus — he’s an architectural designer. He designed it to the minute inch, so when you come in, you don’t feel claustrophobic. It’s its own commercial kitchen, too.
You mentioned earlier that you’re a serial entrepreneur. Now that you’ve done this, are you itching to do the next project?
No, every single time I did a business, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. But I would push it away because it was too much risk, or too much unknown. Once I made the decision, I knew that this was it. This is my happy place.
Gotta ask, what’s your favorite flavor?
We have 39 flavors and I like award-winning chocolate, and Tony’s favorite is old-fashioned vanilla. We offer five packages for various budgets.
Let’s talk a bit about your kids.
We have a 25 year-old daughter and our son is 22. They’ve worked on the bus many times, and that’s been fun. I’ll speak to my son everyday and he’ll ask me what event I’ve done, which package it was, etc. They miss it.
So what was that like running various businesses and taking care of your kids?
My background is in corporate banking, and it was working from 8:00 in the morning until the evening. I missed the entire day, so I began to look for ways that I could emulate my income but still be at home. I worked with a direct sales company for six years first, got my feet wet selling their products, but realized I wanted to sell my own.
What’s it like working together with your husband?
Even though we both work from home, we don’t see each other that much. He’s in his office and I’m in mine. When we do events, it’s like we haven’t seen each other all day, so it’s really nice. And we have fun together. To be able to own your own business, make your own hours, and be in control of your life, that’s what matters.