A Profitable Spin
October 19, 2022
Carousel’s capitalizes on a unique product and partnership.
Profitable partnerships don’t come along every day. But when it comes time to innovate and develop new concepts, it’s often best to turn to tried and trusted partners to get things started. So to understand how Carousel’s came to spin its own brand of sweet treats, one must first learn how Polish Water Ice was able to bring its vision to life by partnering with an equipment manufacturer and a distributor.
When Tom Curyto created Polish Water Ice in 1995, it was the custom design of Electro Freeze’s soft-serve machines and one of the manufacturer’s equipment distributors, Sentry Equipment, that enabled his trademark recipe to come to fruition. Between 1996 and 2018, Curyto grew his mom-and- pop organization to 20 locations on the Jersey shore and in the Northeast with the help of his first vendor partner and Sentry’s owner, Bob Romarino.
“Italian ice is popular here in the Philadelphia area, and my dad wanted to make the traditional product better. He’s Polish, so he wanted that reflected in the name,” says Curyto’s son, Corey. “It was his dream to re-engineer an Italian ice product through a soft-serve machine.”
It all began when Tom Curyto met up with Romarino at a trade show, determined to take traditional Italian ice to the next level. “Our fathers are both second-generation Americans who worked together to come up with the idea of running Italian ice through a soft-serve machine,” says Rob Romarino, Bob’s son and current president of Sentry. “It hadn’t been done before, as the traditional method utilizes a batch freezer.”
After an exhaustive R&D process, and a week of tinkering with Electro Freeze equipment, the two men came up with a fresh, creamy, fat-free Italian ice alternative that dispenses from a soft-serve machine, similar to the way ice cream does. “When traditional Italian ice is served, it’s out of a tub, so it can be a day old or more; because Polish Water Ice comes straight out of a machine, every cup is fresh,” explains Rob Romarino. “This process also adds a little bit of air, so the consistency is smoother, more like a sorbet.”
Like Italian ice, Polish Water Ice does not have the dairy, fat or calories of other frozen desserts. There are 25 flavors, including mango, cotton candy, blue raspberry, cherry and lemon. Electro Freeze’s modified equipment also produces what Carousel’s calls “gelati,” which is half ice and half vanilla soft serve. The advantage of marrying Italian ice with sugar water and a stabilizer using Electro Freeze equipment is that it keeps the product consistent while injecting just the right amount of air for an ideal consistency.
“Our product has the same nutritional panel as Italian ice but eats like ice cream, so it is a big value add,” Corey Curyto says. “We’re the only ones Electro Freeze has worked with to accomplish this. It all started with our dads tweaking the machines so the units that were meant for soft serve would work with ice.”
Due to the increasing popularity of the product, Curyto set out to expand and grow his father’s unique concept nationwide. In 2018, “I called my dad and discussed licensing Polish Water Ice, and this is when Carousel’s was born,” Curyto says.
At that time, Corey and Rob began working together in a similar capacity as their fathers before them. “I knew not only did I have a great product, but I had a great vendor partner in Sentry,” Curyto says. “I reconnected with Rob, who had taken over the family business.”
The two were tasked from building everything from scratch, as they were turning a regional mom-and-pop business into a national franchise. “Corey contacted me wanting to take Polish Water Ice off the boardwalk and expand it,” Romarino says. “He had proof of concept and wanted to leverage the product’s popularity.”
They quickly realized that brick and mortar wasn’t the best place to start, so in 2019, they shifted from retail to a mobile- first concept. “We had a refined product, so the next step was figuring out how to produce it on a truck,” Romarino says. “This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The electric and power are different, and the air needs to be vented out of the vehicle.”
The two men were tasked with how to design and develop a food truck that would fit three Electro Freeze machines. These units had to produce enough product to serve an influx of people with minimal wait times. “Each truck is outfitted with three high-volume, pressurized Electro Freeze GES-5099 units,” Curyto says. “We have five spouts for our ice and one spout for our soft-serve vanilla ice cream.”
The unique and eye-catching trucks are shaped like a carousel, complete with a big top roof similar to a circus tent, bright colors and an awning over the order window. “The branding is on point,” Romarino says. “And you just don’t see three big soft-serve machines on a truck; Carousel’s is the first to do it.”
Speed of service is the key to Carousel’s success, as the mobile concept wouldn’t work with lines of 30 people deep and 40-minute waits. “A big advantage of Electro Freeze’s equipment is the capacity to handle crowds as well as the consistency of the product,” Romarino says. “For fast turns and high revenue, there is a limited menu with five ice flavors, our gelati (soft-serve vanilla with any ice flavor), ice cream cones and sprinkles.”
The pressurized equipment includes a refrigerated compartment underneath, with product pumped from the bottom to the top. Its cabinet doors seal tightly and are closed and locked during transport to protect the product. “Operators don’t have to drain product, take it out or worry about it sloshing around while the truck is in motion,” Romarino says. “This equipment is designed to withstand the challenges of a mobile setting.”
Due to the many truck variables Carousel’s needed to contend with, feedback has been provided along the way. The concept is getting closer to becoming plug- and-play as Carousel’s brand continues growing. “We’re never confident we’re at 100 percent, since technology and products change, and there are variables we don’t control, but we have it 98 percent there,” Romarino says. “We’re on our sixth truck design and design a new one every month or so. We’re confident we have the foundational part down, although it may need tweaks here and there. We have a great relationship with Corey and his team; they provide feedback, and we react right away.”
Carousel’s began franchising in 2021 with mobile trucks, kiosks and licensing into existing locations. It is now franchised in nine cities: Sarasota, Manatee, Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in Florida; Omaha, Neb.; Toledo, Ohio; and Santa Monica, Calif. At press time, 63 Carousel’s units were in development.
“We’re leveraging the relationship with Sentry and its services nationwide,” Curyto says. “We can also put our machines in existing sites like movie theaters and convenience stores. And we’re partnering with major hotel chains. The concept works in a lot of mediums.”
Carousel’s is now one of 12 concepts participating in Walt Disney World’s food truck program. “With Carousel’s main office in Florida, one of the first goals of the company was getting involved with Disney,” Romarino says. “We have two trucks operating there — one at Fort Wilderness and the other at ESPN Wide World of Sports. The brick-and-mortar crowds come in a calmer fashion, but when a truck is brought to the crowds, it’s a hit and run. You have to be able to quickly serve the masses.”
Philanthropy is part of the business, too. With its Carousel Cares program, schools, businesses and other organizations can hire the food truck for a nominal fee and donate up to 100 percent of the profits to the entity or a charity. Electro Freeze and the Sentry teams have been true partners with both Polish Water Ice and now Carousel’s, helping with concept development, recipe design, franchisee consultation and so much more.
“Sentry has been our best partner. They are amazing to work with,” Curyto says. “As we scale up, it brings opportunity to Sentry and Electro Freeze. It’s a great partnership, and we are thankful they’re a part of what we’re doing.”
Romarino agrees, saying as Carousel’s business continues to grow, it’s been fulfilling to take what their dads started years ago and grow the business so many years later.
“What’s nice working with Carousel’s is the lineage with our fathers working together first, and we’re family owned like they are,” Romarino says. “It’s great to work with good people and share success. I believe in the marriage between product development so many years ago and the equipment. Corey is all about establishing a new-age product and branding, and we’re infusing that on our end to scale Carousel’s brand where it needs to go.”