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National Ice Cream Month: Food stand is creative

Lucy Smith, 6, receives a rainbow shaved ice from Finnley Johnson at Sub Zero Desserts on Thursday, July 9, in Sioux Falls. This is the second season that Sub Zero Desserts is operating out of their modified shipping container-turned-food stand. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP)

By ERIN BORMETT

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — This is the second season that Sub Zero Desserts is operating out of their modified shipping container-turned-food stand, and owner Jess Rooney said they are keeping fairly steady business despite the unusual circumstances public food vendors are facing this summer.

“The neighborhood was happy to have us,” said Rooney. “I think the community was ready to do something with less risk.”

July is National Ice Cream Month, and local ice cream shops are in the full swing of summer sales.

Sub Zero brings a unique spin on the cold treat. The easy, grab-and-go nature of rolled ice cream and shaved ice doesn’t come with the same challenges that a sit-down establishment might worry about during the coronavirus pandemic. Through the service window, physical contact is already limited, and there is virtually unlimited space outdoors to keep socially distant while in line.

Sub Zero Desserts typically starts up operations around Memorial Day. This year, the shop opened a month early in order to support their employees. Several seasonal workers for Sub Zero struggled to find steady employment in the off-season, and Rooney said once they knew they could open safely, it was a no-brainer.

“We started contacting them and they basically said, ‘I don’t have anything to do and I don’t have any income,’ so they were on board for opening up,” she told the Argus Leader.

The number of customers this season hasn’t felt very far off from last year, but Rooney said it’s much harder to predict busy times. Typically, evening hours from 7-9 p.m. were sure bets for a rush of customers, but now that people’s schedules are more fluid, she has seen spikes of activity in the middle of weekdays.

The company also gets business from their new online ordering and delivery options, including a partnership with GrubHub. They spent money on a blast freezer to keep desserts cold during travel time for those who don’t want to visit the shop in person. Rooney also runs a mobile trailer to cater events around Sioux Falls.

“It took a lot of creativity, but we got here,” said Rooney.

The creativity doesn’t stop with business practices. Rooney said she is always looking for new ice cream flavors to invent. The most unique flavor experiments so far have been a maple bacon toffee rolled ice cream and a pickle flavored shaved ice.

“I will just go through the aisles at Hy-Vee thinking, what can I put in my ice cream?” she said.

Sub Zero Desserts has amassed a sort of “secret menu” through their Facebook page where Rooney will share flavors she’s created outside of the official menu board. A particular fan favorite is Twin Bing, made from the namesake candy crushed into cherry ice cream and topped with chocolate drizzle. Cookie Monster, made with crushed chocolate chip and Oreo cookies, is another crowd-pleaser.

Rooney said that creating unique sweet treats brings her joy, but the best part of the job is bringing that joy to others.

“One of our favorite things is that huge smile they get,” she said, referring to the children who frequent Sub Zero. “It’s an experience to have someone make your ice cream in front of you. There’s something about summer, and being outside and getting ice cream, that makes it something special.”

Because of this experience, Rooney said she doesn’t feel much competition with other ice cream vendors in the city. She said that each one brings something different to the table, and customers can choose whatever strikes their fancy on any given day.

Instead of only July being National Ice Cream Month, Rooney thinks “all of summer should just be ice cream time.”

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