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Freeze Frame

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 7:08 a.m. November 2, 2012
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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A trio of local nurse anesthetists has injected a serious dose of entrepreneurialism into their lives.

That, and a hefty portion of ice cream.

The unusual combination lies in the Sarasota franchise unit of Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt — the first location to open east of the Rockies. The American Fork, Utah-based chain, ranked 365th in Entrepreneur magazine's 2012 Franchise 500, makes ice cream for customers in a flash-freeze process. It's cryogenic ice cream that can be customized through liquid nitrogen, from flavors and mix-ins down to the type of milk or custard.

Founded in 2004, the chain has 20 locations spread through Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Washington. And the company's initial eastbound location starts with a unique business partnership: The owners, Brad Lord, Gabe Ramsey and Don Wirth, are all nurses in the anesthesiology department at Manatee Memorial Hospital. Each of the owners' wives, moreover, are labor and delivery nurses, though two stopped working full time a few years ago.

The new business owners invested about $200,000, from savings and credit cards, into launching the new Sub Zero. The store, in a strip mall on Clark Road, a few miles west of Intestate 75, opened in late October.

“The three of us all work in a very stressful profession, and we wanted to add a little fun in our lives,” says Wirth. “We looked at different businesses to own and decided this would be a bit less stressful.”

Adds Wirth: “It's OK if you mess up an ice cream cone, but not so with anesthesia.”

All three partners decided on a franchise, says Wirth, because they sought a business with the systems already in place. They found Sub Zero on an Internet search and all three traveled to Utah last year for a franchise Discovery Day. The business model was simple, says Wirth, and the science side of the ice cream process clicked, given their medical and chemistry backgrounds. Says Wirth: “It is totally cool to walk in and see billowing fog rolling off the counter as designer ice cream is being made.”

The $200,000 it cost to open the store included a $25,000 franchise fee. Wirth says the partners decided to lease some of the expensive equipment, like the liquid nitrogen tank. That would cost about $15,000 to buy, says Wirth, but the partners lease it for $300 a month.

Jerry Hancock, an entrepreneur with a chemistry background from Brigham Young University, created the Sub Zero concept and founded the franchise company. Hancock and his wife, Naomi Hancock, ran a burrito restaurant in Utah that allowed customers to create their own meals. They expanded to customized dessert, which is when Hancock developed the process of using liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream.

Wirth says one aspect of the franchise opportunity he and his partners especially like is the idea that Sub Zero is portable. The tank and equipment can be packed up and used for events, parties and catering. Wirth says he and the partners are also already talking to some area malls about opening a Sub Zero kiosk. “We are looking at growing,” says Wirth. “Expansion is definitely in our future.”

Still, no one is ready to dive fully into ice cream entrepreneurialism. “We live a nice life as anesthetists,” Wirth says. “We don't want to give that up yet.”


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