Pistachio Isn’t The Only Green Ice Cream!

Selling ice cream in Tucson, Arizona does not sound like such a creative idea. According to the Weather Channel website, the average high temperature in June is 100° and 101° in July before it cools down to an average high of 99° in August. In the famously arid climate of the Sonoran Dessert, there are also plenty of ice cream friendly days in the other nine months of the year as well. As long as there’s been ice cream, there has been a demand for it in Southern Arizona.

The problem for anyone wanting to get a piece of the ice cream pie – so to speak – is that large ice cream companies have been filling that demand for decades. But Dominic Johnson, a world-class pole vaulter with international experience in three Olympic Games, and his wife Kristel had a dream of starting an ice cream business in Tucson.

The Johnsons looked at the ice cream market in Tucson, and saw two voids. They may have been small voids, but they were in two of the most important segments of any successful business or industry – distribution and quality. They remembered a way of bringing ice cream to the customer that was once an American institution but had nearly vanished from Tucson – the ice cream truck. Distribution taken care of. And they knew they could make a better ice cream than those processed pints and quarts sold by the large, corporate dairies and creameries. Quality. Check.

But Johnson wanted to go an extra step with their ice cream business. As a new shooter in the ice cream market, they wanted to stand out as much as possible with the truck, the ice cream and more. The unique truck and the natural ice cream were obvious. But the Johnsons wanted to go one step further. “The whole idea behind the new business was to be responsible both socially and environmentally,” said Kristel Johnson. “Traveling the world while Dominic was a professional athlete allowed us to experience many different cultures and their people. We began to realize that the one thing we share with everybody around the world is the planet. And we need to be aware of how we occupy it.”

The ice cream that the  Johnsons sell today as Isabella’s Ice Cream is made from only the most choice ingredients beginning with the local, hormone free, fresh cream. The flavors are created from bourbon vanilla beans, Guittard chocolates, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, Pacific Northwest fruit and blended coffees from Columbia. There are no artificial ingredients or stabilizers in Isabella’s Ice Cream and their small batch, French pot method makes a very dense and rich ice cream.

The Johnsons also wanted their ice cream truck to stand out. It had to functional – ice cream must easily be transported and sold from the truck – and it had to be unique. So after months of research, he and wife Kristel decided on an old Ford Model T design. The Model T would standout in appearance and the open bed made it functional for selling ice cream. Now three years after the Johnson’s first concept of selling ice cream, the truck design has been nearly as important to the success of the business as the ice cream. “Originally, we just wanted a truck that would provide a place from which to sell ice cream,” Kristel said. “But in many ways the truck has opened a lot of doors for us. We first planned to sell the ice cream to kids and maybe work a festival or an event or two. But the truck is so unique and fun and popular that we’re currently booked with events into October.”

Producing a fresh ice cream locally would satisfy much of environmental standards the Johnson wanted, but they wanted to take the business one step greener. So an electric engine for the truck also quickly became part of the design. And because the truck is 100% electric with zero emissions, it can be used and driven in indoor events as well. In fact, weddings are among the most frequently booked events. “It is so fun,” Kristel said. “After the newlyweds cut the cake, the wedding guests hear a big I-O-O-G-A-H and we drive into the ballroom and start serving the ice cream.”

But the green ice cream design didn’t stop with the engine. The wood used for the custom siding and flooring on the truck is all recycled – recycled and famous that is. The hardwood planks were once a part of the legendary Lute & Bobbie Olson basketball court at the University of Arizona McKale Center. Isabella’s Ice Cream is also served with wooden biodegradable spoons, they use recycled napkins and serve drinks in recyclable glass bottles adding even more green aspects to the business.

Whether the Isabella Ice Cream truck visits a given neighborhood or not, the Johnsons want to make sure customers can find them. Their website lists several events on the truck’s schedule and live GPS updates with the truck’s current location.

Kristel says that Isabella’s Ice Cream has grown much faster than they anticipated. Plans for their own creamery have been accelerated and they are planning to have a downtown Tucson location soon. The ice cream is also now available at Rincon Market and Maynard’s Market and Kitchen in Tucson. The restaurant at Maynard’s has put the Isabella’s Ice Cream on their menu and now also serve custom desserts designed by their chef around the different flavors.

While the corporations continue to sell their ice cream to Tucson by the tractor trailer load, Dominic and Kristel Johnson will continue to make their all natural ice cream and sell it out of a Model T. While executives peruse cost analysis trying to find a cheaper high fructose corn syrup or better tasting mono and diglycerides, the Johnsons might be driving a neighborhood. And while ice cream vice presidents are looking for increased earnings per share, it will be the kids seeking out Isabella’s Ice Cream.

To learn more about Isabella’s Ice Cream visit their website!

If you’re lucky enough to live live in Tucson, you can buy Isabella’s Ice Cream at Renee’s Organic Oven.


3 Responses to “Pistachio Isn’t The Only Green Ice Cream!”
  1. This is a great ice cream story with a nice concept. I love the Ford T for a change! I wish we could carry ice cream on our gourmet website, it’s a hot seller.

  2. jen says:

    Sonoran Dessert LOL.

  3. F Smith says:

    Great concept! The ice cream truck really stands out.

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