Rita’s Franchise Review: Harry Jones of Suwanee, GA

Professional caterer finds Rita’s catering has been key to his success

As the longtime owner of Katie’s Catering in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee, Georgia, Harry Jones is no stranger to the foodservice business. So when he was looking for a side business around 2007 and attended a Rita’s Italian Ice Franchise seminar in Atlanta, it seemed like an ideal choice. Today, Harry owns a Rita’s near his catering business and is the president of the Franchisee Advisory Council. In this Rita’s franchise review, he talks about his journey to ownership and what it takes to succeed.

HARRY JONES

What was it about Rita’s that made you think this would be a good fit with your primary business?

The product itself is just outstanding, and that’s really what we got hooked on. The Suwanee shop was the first Rita’s shop in the state of Georgia, and it’s still the only shop in the state that’s owned by the original owner.

I know one of the things you do with your Rita’s is a lot of catering. How has that affected your business?
Yeah, we do a significant amount of catering for Rita’s. We specifically go out and target the market in terms of Facebook posts, and on my Katie’s Catering menu, the back page is dedicated to Rita’s. So we do a lot of flyers that we pass out at all of the lunches we do.

It’s incredibly easy to add this revenue stream to your Rita’s if you have the systems in place going into it, so you have a game plan and a pricing structure. Rita’s really did a tremendous job this year of setting guidelines and standards. They actually hired an outside consultant for the first time to look at what everyone’s doing and to put a standard catering practice in place. And so for the first time ever, you literally can use the tools that Rita’s provides and grow your business to suit that catering participation.

Do you have an estimate of what percentage of revenue your catering provides?
So far, year-to-date, our catering represents 5% of my total bid.

Have you been doing catering all along with Rita’s or is it a new line for you?
We have. That literally was my background. And so I think we always thought that being in an outlying market, you have to do what the customer wants if you’re going to be successful. So, when we had an opportunity to do catering in-shop or people wanted us to come out to their location, we figured out how we were going to make that happen. It’s my responsibility to try to make sure that my shop was successful. Especially in an outlying market.

What kinds of events do people hire Rita’s to cater?
We’ve done everything from anniversaries to doctors offices.

How do you feel right now about the direction of the brand?
Overall from a marketing perspective and an operations perspective, I think this is the best that I’ve seen it in 12 years.

The senior leadership team really has a vision of where they want to go and how they want to get there. Linda Chadwick, the CEO, comes from a franchising background. She understands that for Rita’s to make money, the shops have to make money.

I understand you’re the president of the Franchisee Advisory Council. Can you tell me a little bit about how that council is structured and what you do?
The board itself is made up of nine franchisees that are elected by their peers to be the representatives of the franchisees to the franchising company. But we’re also advisors to the company. When there’s new marketing material or something new in operations, they don’t just change it. We are kind of like the beta testers; we get the first look at it. That way we can tell if we need to add or enhance something to make it work better for franchise owners, and corporate will listen and take our suggestions under advisement.

How much interaction do you have with other franchisees who are not on the council? How much chance do they get to provide feedback?
As much as or as little as they want. We have an intranet, a CoolNet franchisee website, and all of the FAC’s phone numbers and emails are listed on there.

So, if someone has an issue or a problem, all people have to do is pick up the phone and call and let me know, hey, this is an issue, this is a problem. It would be difficult for us to call 575 franchise shop locations and ask them how things are going, but if they have a question or a problem, they should pick up a phone and call someone.

What kind of experience does someone need to be successful with a Rita’s?
I don’t think you necessarily have to have any specific type of experience. I do think you have to be able and willing to work hard, though. I am a firm believer that Rita’s is a hands-on business, not an investment business.

When you first start off, you have to work in your business. No matter what your business is, if it’s consumer-related, people want to know that the owner’s there.

From a customer perspective, what is it that draws customers to Rita’s? Consumers have a lot of choices when it comes to frozen treats. Why Rita’s? Why do they come?
I think there’s two main reasons. The primary one is the product’s terrific, and the No. 1 reason why my shop is so successful is that we have a tremendous team of young women and men who treat the people how they want to be treated. So they get terrific service, and let’s face it, the consumer is always going to go where they get something they want and they’re treated right.

What would you say makes Rita’s a good investment as opposed to another brand?
Again, I have to go back to the product. The product itself is just terrific.

And knowing what you know now, if you were just starting out today, would you still become a Rita’s Franchisee? If so, why?
Yes. I would. People love dessert, right? So they feel like it is a reward when they treat themselves and I think that of all the other dessert companies, I really, truly believe that we have the best product in the marketplace.

Is there anything else you think a prospective owner should know?
You have to be hands-on, and I think it’s important when you open a business, no matter what the business is, it’s imperative that you keep your build-out costs in line.

Learn more about the Rita’s opportunity

If you’d like to learn more about Rita’s, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the form on this page to access our Franchise Information Center, where you can find detailed financial results, a breakdown of startup costs and in-depth Q&As with Rita’s franchisees. You can also discover more about our brand by exploring our website.

Rita’s franchisee found ‘love at first bite’

Lawyer Maria Finley who opens first Rita’s franchise in state of Louisiana featured in local newspaper

Two women, one in a pink dress and another holding a toddler, read a “Coming Soon” sign in the front door of a new Rita’s. Signage above the store reads, “Rita’s Italian Ice | Creamery.”

Attorney Maria Finley was a new empty-nester who was ready to move away from her hometown of Baton Rouge and start a new chapter in her life in Washington, D.C. That was before a Rita’s Blue Raspberry Italian Ice stopped her in her tracks.

As Finley told “The Advocate,” one bite was all it took to put her on a whole new path. Today, she is the proud owner of the first Rita’s franchise in the state of Louisiana. “The Advocate,” which featured Finley recently, wrote in part:

Four summers ago, Maria A. Finley, a Louisiana attorney, packed her things and was prepared to move to Washington, D.C. Her children had all grown up, and she was ready for a fresh start.

After touring Georgetown University with her son and his friend, the trio visited a Rita’s Italian Ice. For Finley, it was love at first bite.

“I got the blue raspberry and I tasted it, and I mean, literally within two or three minutes I called my realtor and said, ‘Take my house off the market. I’m coming back to Louisiana and opening a Rita’s Italian Ice franchise,’” Finley said.

With that blue raspberry, Finley picked up on something a lot of people have known about Rita’s for more than three decades — it’s delicious.

What Rita’s offers franchisees

Italian ice and frozen custard are our two core products, comprising part of virtually everything we sell. That helps keep our food costs really low. Our simple business model gives franchisees the opportunity to run a profitable business, and our mobile units and catering offer additional streams of revenue and a simple way to expand the business.

Rita’s is a happy business, where guests come in excited with anticipation and leave even happier than when they arrived. With no cooking involved, it’s easier to find, train and retain labor — and also easier to scale up quickly.

Her seasonal franchise is open year-round

As for Finley, she’s loving her new life as a Rita’s franchisee. She opened her shop in October 2018 and added a mobile unit in May. While many Rita’s franchisees in the northeast close their shops during winter months, in Baton Rouge, where January’s high temps average around 60, there’s no need to completely shut down in winter. And the community is loving it. “The Advocate” wrote:

“The response has been wonderful,” Finley said. “The secret is to get it in their mouths. And that’s part of the excitement that makes me so happy to have brought this franchise to Louisiana — practically every person I see taste it gets this amazing look on their face.”

Finley is well aware that Louisiana’s frozen treat of choice is the sno-ball, but she doesn’t make it a point in comparing the two.

“If somebody wants a sno-ball, they’re going to go get themselves a sno-ball,” she said. “I just try to get people to taste our Italian ices that we make fresh in the store almost every day. I don’t knock sno-balls, but we are definitely an alternative when someone wants a frozen treat. I just leave it up to them to decide after that.”

Own a Rita’s franchise

Find out how you can become a Rita’s franchisee by exploring our research pages or filling out the form on this page. We look forward to hearing from you!

35 years to iconic status

How Rita’s invented a new category in the ice cream franchise segment and built a cult following that’s stronger than ever over three decades later

Two men are in the window of a Rita's food truck, one of them holding a cup of Rita's Italian Ice and the other one giving the camera a thumbs-up.

Tennessee Titans player Logan Ryan helps scooping ice on a Rita’s truck at a community event at Eastern Regional High School in NJ.

There’s nothing like a frozen treat in the summertime. And when Rita’s Italian Ice is around, people who know us will skip over the usual ice cream franchise faster than a toddler can drop a single scoop on hot pavement.

Rita’s is in an exciting space in the frozen desserts market because we’re like no other. From our roots in the Philly area, where we first opened our doors in 1984, we’ve grown a tremendous fan base, a cult-like following that has spread quickly with 600+ units nationwide.

After 35 years, we think it’s safe to say we’ve reached iconic status. We’re a seasonal, easy-to-operate franchise that’s far less complicated to run than a typical food franchise or even an ice cream business.

You can generate multiple streams of revenue and save money on labor during the off-season with Rita’s. And, with our mobile units, you’ll have the ability to amp up the catering side of your business and take your product to community events.

Marketing helps us connect

Although Rita’s popularity grew by word-of-mouth in the early days, these days we offer our franchisees everything from sophisticated marketing tactics to grassroots strategies that help spread brand awareness. Once people try our product and understand what we’re offering, that’s when the deeper connection are made.

Dallas-based franchisee Sean Evans grew up with Rita’s on the East Coast, so it was a no-brainer to bring the concept west to Texas. He and his business partner are planning to build 5 units in all. They’ve already carved out their branding strategy in this new-to-Rita’s part of the country.

“Even though we know the product is great, what’s it going to take to make someone else understand that, someone else that doesn’t know anything about it? You have to be willing to get the samples out there, work hard to get people to experience the product,” Evans says. “Even if that means that you might offer it free at an event. I think you have to really understand that you’re trying to show people how great it is.”

Two main products means simple operations

Unlike ice cream franchises, which have become so common that they’re now commoditized, Rita’s maintains a unique position in the $28 billion frozen desserts industry. Our product isn’t sold in stores, and we’re often the only outlet in the market selling Italian ice.

Our two core products are used in some combination on every item on our menu, from a layered Gelati to the delicious mixed Blendini. It makes inventory a breeze and helps keep food waste — and costs — at a minimum.

Join us

Ice cream franchises come and go, but there will never be another brand like Rita’s. Find out how you can become a Rita’s franchisee by exploring our research pages or filling out the form on this page. We look forward to hearing from you!

If you start today, your Rita’s franchise could be open by spring

From your first phone call to cutting the ribbon at your Grand Opening, here’s your journey to becoming a Rita’s franchise owner

Double lines of people are queued up at a Rita’s. Red, white and green bunting hangs over the parking lot, and red and green balloons are seen in the background.

In the age of Google, shopping for a franchise is nothing like it was 20 or even 10 years ago. By the time the next Rita’s franchise owner contacts someone on our Franchise Development team, there’s a good chance he or she has already done quite a bit of research.

So if you’re thinking of owning a Rita’s Italian Ice franchise, there’s a good chance you’ve already figured out your “why.” What you may not know yet is just what happens to get from point A to point Z. Lori Shaffron, Senior Director of Franchise Sales, sheds a little light on the subject.

“We do an introductory call, and on that first call I talk about the time frame,” Shaffron says. “We have a conversation and I learn about them and what their values are and what they’re trying to achieve. I want to know what’s important to them.”

The prospective buyer fills out a questionnaire (our minimum requirements are $100,000 in liquid assets and a $300,000 net worth), and we send over our latest Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). Although some may want to review the document with their lawyer or financial advisor, Shaffron schedules another call to go over it with them.

“People can get intimidated by the FDD,” she says. “They don’t understand it sometimes if they’re new to franchising. I like to call them and walk them through it.”

Getting a feel for the franchise

Shaffron also sets up a call between the franchise candidate and someone on our Operations team so they can get a good feel for what it’s like for a Rita’s franchise owner day-to-day. If the candidate wants to talk to other Rita’s franchisees for validation, Shaffron provides a contact list.

What she won’t do is the hard sell. It’s an outdated way of selling anything, much less franchises. Rita’s is proud of our operational excellence, our brand recognition, our leadership and our unique, superior product line based on delicious frozen custard and Italian ice.

“By the time candidates call, most of them have already done their due diligence,” Shaffron says. “They know that this is what they want to do. They’ve done their homework.”

We run a credit check and a background check on all candidates, and then we schedule a day for them to fly to our headquarters in Trevose, Pennsylvania, to meet the team. The candidate gets time with leaders from each department, learning more about the ins and outs of Rita’s franchise, and how everything interconnects. They have time to ask any lingering questions.

This is where the sign-on-the-dotted line decision is made, and this is where it starts to get exciting. Things can move quickly, but Rita’s is right there every step of the way. In fact, every candidate gets assigned to their own fairy godmother or fairy godfather, as Shaffron likes to say — aka their personal business coach.

“They know who to go to. The have their fairy godmother or fairy godfather to answer any questions, and they don’t get the runaround trying to find the right person,” she says.

“Then I direct them to the real estate team. They help scout out a location with a broker and help negotiate a lease with them. Now they’re working with their personal coach to follow every step that needs to be followed — construction, permits, whatever they have to do.”

A short leap to a Spring 2020 opening

So, if you were to contact Lori Shaffron one day this August, could you really be a bona fide Rita’s franchise owner by March 19, 2020, the first day of spring?

“Absolutely, yes,” says Shaffron. “One hundred percent.”

It’s your call

Are you ready? Would you like to talk through the particulars? Give us a call at 800-677-7482 or fill out a form to get access to franchising details. We look forward to seeing you at your very own Spring Grand Opening!

What’s your why?

Rita’s could be what you’re looking for: a happy, seasonal franchise opportunity that gives you a second chance

Colorful words stand up on a chalkboard that say, “If not now, when?”

One of the most important aspects of any career is understanding your why: Are you just trying to keep a roof over your head? Do you want to be the next big thing in your field? Are you motivated by the reward of serving others? Understanding your own motivations may be even more important when you’re considering opening your own business.

With Rita’s, many of our franchise owners operate seasonally because it makes sense in their geographic climate — but also because it feeds their motivation. Some are looking for that work-life balance that’s so elusive in the corporate world and in independent business ownership.

From October through February, they close down their shops and spend that time however they feel is best. Some of them work a different seasonal job, like tax preparation. Some spend the time planning to scale up and add another Rita’s. Some travel to see their grandkids.

For anyone who’s ever experienced burnout, that’s a huge benefit of a seasonal operation. Sometimes you start your career with a strong passion, only to find that motivation fading and changing over the years. A 4- or 5-month break would be a wonderful way to recharge, personally and professionally.

Are you able to go to your boss right now and ask to take winter off? Probably not. Is your why still as relevant today as it was when you started out 10 or 20 years ago? Unlikely.

A happy business

Rita’s is the kind of place that can remind you of your why.

Rita’s mission is to be the happiest frozen treat experience in the world. It is, at heart, a happy business. People are coming into Rita’s for celebratory reasons.

If your job or career no longer feeds your why, then what are you waiting for? Rita’s Italian Ice is surprisingly affordable and easy to operate — you don’t even need foodservice experience. Our two key products are Italian ice and frozen custard, and they’re the basis for all of our marvelous menu creations.

Additionally, with our Italian ices in particular, your food costs are low — basically it’s just water and sugar — so your profit margins are high. There’s no cooking and little food waste. Most of your staff will be seasonal workers — high school and college kids. They’re easy to train because there’s no complicated equipment or complicated recipes.

Are you ready for franchise ownership?

There’s a saying in the franchise business — you’re in business for yourself, not by yourself. We have a stellar franchise support system that you can rely on throughout the life of your franchise. From our Executive Team to your fellow franchisees, there’s always someone there who has faced whatever challenges you’re facing and can help you steer through them.

Rita’s has affordable startup costs that allow you to grow your business and scale up more quickly than you might with other franchises. Our startup investment ranges from $175,500-$435,000 for a standard shop. For those interested in multi-unit development, we also offer incentives. Qualified candidates should have a minimum liquidity of $100,000 and a net worth of at least $300,000.

If you’re having too many days where you just can’t remember why you started this career to begin with, or why on earth you’re still in it, it’s time for a fresh start.

A fresh start that just might begin with filling out this form to request more information about Rita’s.