Isabella’s Ice Cream to open brick and mortar parlor on Fourth Ave. in mid-October

September 24, 2016
By Gloria Knott
By Gloria Knott

Six years ago, if you asked Dominic and Kristel Johnson if they saw themselves opening a standalone ice cream shop in the future, they would’ve told you no.

But now, that’s exactly what the owners of Isabella’s Ice Cream are doing.

The ice cream shop will make its Fourth Avenue debut in mid-October, in the spot that was previously home to Hopyard Deli.

“It’s a whole new road and a totally different path,” Kristel said. “But I’m super excited about it.”

Kristel and Dominic never wanted to open a shop, and had always planned to stick with just the truck. But now, the couple found the timing for a shop was just right.

“The location is just perfect,” Kristel said. “Where we’re at in our business — it just feels right. It’s almost like a secret dream that I had, but didn’t want to admit it.”

“It just really feels like it’s meant to be,” she said.

If you’re unfamiliar with Isabella’s Ice Cream, the Johnsons started the business six years ago after designing an electric version of a Ford Model T.

“Basically, the concept was to build an ice cream truck that didn’t look like it was going to steal your children,” Dominic said.

(Credit: Isabella's Ice Cream)
(Credit: Isabella’s Ice Cream)

“We came up with the idea of using a Ford Model T,” he said. “That style, the wood body — it’s real open. It’s something where you can just see what’s going on.”

Isabella’s Ice Cream, named after one of the couple’s daughters, soon became a catering and delivery business.

After making ice cream in a little Cuisinart’s Kitchen, Isabella’s Ice Cream rented a spot in the Mercado, not to sell the ice cream, but to make it.

“We occupied this tiny, little place,” he said. “We got a pasteurizer and a batch freezer, and we were making ice cream.”

And after Whole Foods and 110 Safeway locations began selling Isabella’s Ice Cream, the Johnsons realized how much they missed driving the truck and making retail sales.

Isabella’s Ice Cream is no longer sold in Safeway stores, but continues to be sold at Whole Foods throughout the state.

“We realized we needed more retail sales,” Dominic said. “That’s what prompted us to have a shop — it’s big enough space, and we’ll be able to have a shop here, and still make ice cream here, too.”

The new shop will be located directly in front of a Streetcar stop, near vintage bookstore Book Stop, The Shanty, and Ermano’s Craft Beer & Wine Bar.

“The challenge was finding a place big enough, so I could make ice cream and have a retail store front, all in a good spot,” Dominic said.

“We saw the lease sign in the window and started talking to the neighbors,” he said. “They were really pulling for us to be here, and I really like the neighbors.”

Dominic soon discovered that the owners of the space are the same owners of Whiskey Del Bac, who Isabella’s Ice Cream has collaborated with before.

You may have also come across Isabella’s Ice Cream in a number of other Tucson spots, including Maynards Market & Kitchen, Renee’s Organic Oven, Lerua’s Fine Mexican Foods, Time Market, Rincon Market, and 1702. And even after the shop opens, Isabella’s Ice Cream will continue to be featured on restaurant menus throughout Tucson.

The ice cream at Isabella’s is completely made from scratch with only natural ingredients — no stabilizers or fillers.

“I try to locally source, but there’s only so much you can get in Arizona,” Kristel said. “My whole thing is natural and pure, so I’m really particular with a lot of my ingredients.”

Isabella’s Ice Cream will offer about 16 different flavors. About 8 or 9 flavors will be the shop’s staples, but the remaining flavors will rotate based on season (pumpkin, anyone?), and other new flavors that Kristel creates.

“Now that we’re on Fourth Avenue, we might come up with some clever flavors,” Dominic said. “Like a flavor called the Hippie Gypsy or something.”

“We did a kale ginger ice cream for a while, and Maynards had me do a celery sorbet — just some really funky stuff,” Kristel said.

“I love when I get to play with the flavors,” she said. “This is going to sound weird, but I’ll see a candle or something, and I’ll think, ‘that flower with that cream would go great together, I should try that!'”

“Since we have a shop now, I can add some really funky stuff but then have all our regular flavors.”

Lavender vanilla ice cream from Isabella's Ice Cream at Rincon Market.
Lavender vanilla ice cream from Isabella’s Ice Cream at Rincon Market.

The following flavors are likely to be staple flavors at the shop:

  • Sonoran Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Chocolate Chip
  • Salted Caramel
  • Pecan
  • Lavender Vanilla
  • Two different vegan sorbets

Dominic adds that he hopes to support local restaurants.

“I want to work with local chefs or brewers,” he said. “Maybe once a month, they can design their own ice cream for us, and we can feature it for the month.”

Dominic notes that Isabella’s Ice Cream will also work with Eric Lepie of Eric’s Fine Foods & Ice Cream to bring back Lepie’s classic flavors. Eric’s was previously in the location that now houses 1702.

Kristel will also be working with Planet of the Crepes founder Jessica Kraus.

“Jessica went to a culinary institute in New York City as a pastry chef, and she’s going to be part of the shop,” Dominic said.

In addition to ice cream, Isabella’s will offer fancy popsicles, chocolate bonbons, ice cream sandwiches, and ice cream tacos.

“It’s going to feel like an old chocolate shop,” Dominic said.

And to honor Whiskey Del Bac, the owners of the location, Kristel and Dominic want to feature a whiskey ice cream.

“I think it would be cool to feature it tied in with the history of the building,” Kristel said.

The shop will also offer an Italian espresso machine.

“We’re here in the morning, and people might not walk in to buy a scoop of ice cream, but they might walk in to buy a cappuccino,” Dominic said.

Much like the Ford Model T, the shop’s ambiance and decor will be heavily influenced by the 1920s, including chandeliers, and brass and wooden tables.

“I also have a bunch of ice cream parlor chairs from 1900 to 1920,” Dominic said. “I’ve been collecting them for the last few years.”

Dominic also plans to add a window leading to the kitchen. “People can look inside the kitchen to see all the equipment,” he said.

“People can see that we’re making it from scratch, and not a lot of people do that.”

In addition to making ice cream from scratch, the Isabella’s Ice Cream truck is 100% electric, and was built with recycled basketball flooring. They also use recycled napkins, recyclable glass bottles, and biodegradable spoons.

For the shop, Dominic plans to incorporate the same ways of going green.

“The freezers are solar powered on our trucks,” he said. “So we might put a merchandizing freezer here that’s totally solar. When we put up our signage, we can easily light it with solar.”

Dominic also mentioned that the batch freezer used to make the ice cream is water-cooled and saves thousands of gallons of water.

And although Isabella’s is making its way to Fourth Avenue, the truck will still be doing catering events and deliveries through GrubHub and Tapingo.

“I think the combination of the shop with the truck will be really effective,” Dominic said. “We’re probably going to try to ramp up the ice cream delivery even more.”

The shop will stay open late, likely until 2 a.m. on weekends. Prices will vary, generally around $3.50 for a scoop, and $5 or $6 for the novelties.

Isabella's Ice Cream on Fourth Avenue (Credit: Gloria Knott)
Isabella’s Ice Cream on Fourth Avenue (Credit: Gloria Knott)

If you happen to walk by the shop within the next few weeks, you’ll notice the outside windows are covered with empty boxes of ice cream. Fifteen minutes into our interview, someone noticed the ice cream and peeked her head in the door.

“Why do you have ice cream in your window?” she asked.

“We’re going to be opening an ice cream shop soon,” Dominic told her.

“That’s f–king awesome,” she said. “I live like, less than a block away. I’ll see you guys soon!”

Isabella’s Ice Cream is scheduled to open in October at 210 N. 4th Ave.

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