Rita’s owner finds happiness in ices and custard

7:25 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017 Business
Owner Ken Weiner stands inside his Rita’s Italian Ice store on Rosemary Avenue in West Palm Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Lake Worth resident Ken Weiner spends his days serving up heaping scoops of flavored Italian ice and frozen custard.

As the owner of Palm Beach County’s only two Rita’s Italian Ice locations, Weiner and his staff make dozens of flavors of the sweet treats every day. The job, he says, is hard, but fulfilling.

“I never thought I would be scooping ice in my mid 40s,” Weiner said. “It is a rewarding job. You get to see a lot of kids and families.”

All of the ice and custards are made fresh at the store — a job that begins about two hours before Weiner’s shops open everyday.

“It is a lot of labor,” Weiner said.

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Weiner got his start in business working for his father’s textile company. He later opened his own financial services business. He decided to leave that job 2 1/2 years ago, and began looking for a franchise to buy.

He first considered a UPS store, but ultimately decided to purchase the Rita’s location in CityPlace.

“The following that Rita’s has is amazing,” Weiner said. “And I loved their ices.”

A year ago, he decided to buy a second Rita’s location — an existing shop in Royal Palm Beach.

Rita’s first opened its doors in Bensalem, Pa., in 1984. The company now has more than 600 locations around the world. Rita’s is known for its enthusiastic fans, particularly among those who are originally from Pennsylvania or other parts of the northeast.

“Pennsylvania has a big following around here,” Weiner said.

He pointed to Wawa’s recent push into the Palm Beach County market. The gas station and convenience store chain is also headquartered in Pennsylvania, and has an extremely loyal fan base.

Name: Ken Weiner

Age: 47

Hometown: Northbrook, Illinois

Where you live now: Lake Worth, Florida

About your company: Rita’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard. We have two locations, one in West Palm Beach in Cityplace and one in Royal Palm Beach at Southern Palm Crossing. We serve up to 60 flavors of Italian ice made fresh daily. We also make up to 12 flavors of hand scooped custard fresh at the store. It is a great company. The product is great. It has a great following.

How your business has changed: We have implemented a hand scooped custard program at both locations.

First paying job and what you learned from it: I worked for a hot dog restaurant when I was 13. I learned to cut pickles, onions, and tomatoes. That was a family run business. I realized that it was a lot of hard work, and you have to be there. I learned that you are definitely always full time on the job.

First break in the business: I was looking for a retail business and Rita’s was presented by a broker in 2015. I saw the potential at CityPlace and took the risk. Sales grew 20 percent the first year and my Royal Palm location is up 19 percent year-to-date.

Best business book you ever read: Doyle Brunson’s Super System. It is a Texas Hold’em Poker book that has taught me how to read people.

Best piece of business advice you ever received: I worked for my dad’s textile business in sales. He told me to always listen to the customer and don’t always do the talking.

What you tell young people about your business: We are not just a store. We sell our Italian ice and custard at other events.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Amazing growth. The (Brightline) rail will be starting soon. That will bring in more people to discover how great Palm Beach County is. People who live in Miami can get a job around West Palm Beach. I think that will bring more traffic and more people.

Where we can find you when you are not at the office: Probably selling Rita’s at an event like FAU football games, school events and Bat/Bar Mitzvahs. My six children take up the rest.

Favorite smartphone app: Facebook.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Usually this will be the first job kids will get. I want to see them take initiative to fill out our online application. Parents, don’t call for your child unless you want to mop the floors for them.

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