What Equipment Do You Need for An Ice Cream Shop?

What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop

What equipment do you need for an ice cream shop? So, you made the big decision – you want to start your own ice cream shop. Congratulations. Now, what exactly are all the pieces of equipment you need to get that shop up and running. In this post, I am going to share all the pieces you need to turn your shop into an “ice cream making machine”. I will go through all the main pieces of equipment (freezers, batch freezers, etc.) you need as well as the costs involved. In a separate post, I will cover the supplies you need to run an ice cream store. These include miscellaneous items such as buckets, scoopers, spatulas, ice cream buckets, etc. But first, what even are the pieces of equipment you need to run an ice cream store.

What Equipment Do You Need for An Ice Cream Store?

As a general rule, the equipment that is often required to open an ice cream shop includes the following:

  • At least one batch freezer (aka ice cream machine)
  • Storage freezers
  • Display freezer/scooping freezer
  • Refrigerator
  • Blender
  • Scales
  • Toppings counter
  • Point of sale.

It can cost as little as $10k to as much as $100k plus to buy the equipment for an ice cream shop.

What Big Pieces of Equipment Do Ice Cream Shops Use?

There are four main big pieces of equipment that ice cream shops may need:

A. Ice cream machines (batch freezer, soft serve, or cold plate);

B. Storage freezers (upright, chest, or under counter);

C. Display freezer; and

D. Refrigerators.

There are also smaller pieces of equipment needed too, but these four are the big essential items.

What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop - ice cream shop

A. Ice Cream Machines for An Ice Cream Shop

First on the list is arguably one of the important pieces of equipment an ice cream shop will need – the heart of the shop – the ice cream making machine. What machine is needed to make ice cream completely depends on what ice cream you plan on serving?

Let’s run through the three main types of ice cream.

Ice Cream Machines for Scooped Ice Cream Shop

As a general rule, if you are offering scooped ice cream in your shop you will need a batch freezer. A batch freezer essentially freezes and whips air into the ice cream base producing scoopable ice cream.

Batch freezers are easy to use, clean, and maintain.

A small ice cream shop will generally only need one batch freezer (at least 6-quarts). If you would like to read more about batch freezers, I dedicated a whole post to them (because they are that important) you can read it here – Everything You Need To Know About Batch Freezers.

Ice Cream Machines for Soft Serve Ice Cream Shop

If you plan on offering soft serve in your ice cream shop, you will need several soft serve machines in your shop.

Soft Serve machines are the big ice cream machines you see in self-serve yogurt shops where the handle is pulled down and swirly frozen dessert comes swirling out.

The number of soft serve machines you need will depend on the number of flavors you want to have on the menu at any one time. For example, if you want to offer ten flavors at any one time you will need five dual favor machines (each machine usually can serve two flavors).

The cost of buying soft serve machines upfront can be pricey. The maintenance and cleaning requirements of soft serve machines are also high. Again, because soft serve machines are such an important piece of equipment, I dedicated a post to them that you can read here – Everything You Need To Know About Soft Serve Ice Cream.

Ice Cream Machine Required for Rolled Ice Cream Shop

If you plan on opening a rolled ice cream shop, you will need cold plates to make the rolled ice cream on.

A cold plate is essentially the opposite of a frying pan – ice cream mix is poured on and the plate freezes the mix. You then use metal spatulas to scrape and mix the mix into ice cream into rolls.

The number of cold plates you require depends on: (1) how many orders you want to be able to process at once; and (2) and how many servers you plan on making ice cream at any one time. Rolled ice cream is a pretty unique concept with specific challenges so I wrote a dedicated post on running a rolled ice cream business you can read it here – Everything You Need To Know About Rolled Ice Cream.

What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop - freezer

B. Storage Freezers for Ice Cream Shop

You have made some ice cream. Yes! That is the good news. The bad news is that ice cream melts. That means the second most important piece of equipment for your ice cream store is going to be freezers. You will need freezers for scooped ice cream or soft serve mix. It will also be needed to store other ingredients as necessary.

My ice cream shop has four freezers and one small fridge. The fridge is mostly used for storing fresh fruit.

There are a few essential things you need to know when it comes to freezers in ice cream shops. I will answer these below.

Types of Freezers

There are three main types of freezers (with the exclusion of display freezers which I cover in section C below): (1) Chest Freezers; (2) Upright Freezers; and (3) Walk-In Freezers.

Chest freezers

These are probably the most reliable type of freezer unit. They are essentially rectangular boxes that keep items frozen. Items are placed in the freezer through a lid that opens on the top of the freezer. Their main disadvantage is that they typically do not store too much (in comparison to upright or walk-in freezers) and take up a lot of floor space. However, in my experience, they are the most reliable, cheapest, and dependable type of freezer.

Upright Freezers

An upright commercial freezer is what you expect. It looks like a traditional freezer unit. It is metal with swing doors. These freezers can have a high storage capacity and take up relatively lower amounts of space for their storage. Our double-door True Freezer is the heart of our ice cream storage in our ice cream shop.

These freezers come in two formats: (1) bottom-mounted compressor; and (2) top-mounted compressor. The difference is simple where the compressor is located. My personal preference is bottom-mounted compressors as it gives easier access for any maintenance or repairs. It also means you can store boxes on top of the freezer for extra storage space.

The main disadvantage of these freezers is their cost. A good brand of the commercial freezer (such as True) will set you back thousands. For example, a double-door large-capacity freezer can easily set you back $5,000+. These freezers also need to be serviced every 6 months to maintain their life. Also, if the freezer breaks down (which can happen) repairs will be costly. We had to replace a compressor on a freezer at a total cost of $2,500.

However, these pieces of equipment can store a lot. They don’t take up that much room given their storage and are a much cheaper option than a walk-in freezer.

Walk-In Freezers

Walk-in freezers are your best option when it comes to needed lots of freezer space. A walk-in freezer is essentially a man-made freezer room. You open a door, and you can walk into the freezer. They offer lots of freezer space.

The main disadvantage of walk-in freezers is their cost and their size. You need to have the dedicated space for a walk-in freezer. They are also the most expensive. Though they can be made in a variety of sizes. If you have the space, you may only need to have one walk-in freezer in your ice cream store as opposed to four+ other types of freezers. Having just one freezer though does put you at a disadvantage if something ever goes wrong with that freezer.

In my ice cream shop, we simply didn’t have the room for a walk-in so had to go with other options.

What Temperature Should Ice Cream Be Stored At?

Ice cream kept in storage should be kept at 0oF or below. Ideally, a good freezer will keep your ice cream at least -10oF.

What Freezers Will I Need?

Any upright freezer or chest freezer or under-counter freezer will usually suffice as a storage freezer.

If you are starting a scooping or gelato shop, you will need storage freezers to store batches of ice cream and gelato in. Similarly, if you are starting a soft serve shop and plan on buying frozen soft serve mix that is kept frozen before it is thawed and poured into the soft serve machines, then you need at least one freezer.

If you are launching a soft serve shop and plan on making all your soft serve from powdered mixes, then you may not need a freezer.

Likewise, if you are starting a rolled ice cream shop you also may not require a freezer.

Online Orders – UBEREATS, etc.

Whatever type of ice cream you are making you will want to consider a freezer just for online orders. In today’s market, every business should offer the ability to order online with platforms like UBEREATS, Doordash, Postmates, etc. If you do, then you will need to think about how you are going to keep ice cream orders frozen from the moment they are made to when they are picked up. The freezer also needs to be in the front of the house to ensure as smooth an operation as possible for your team.

The way we do it at our ice cream store is that we got a toppings counter which gets super cold. We can then store ice cream orders inside the toppings counter until they are collected. This makes for a quick and easy handover.

How To Start My Own Ice Cream Business - Ice Cream Store

C. Display Freezers for Ice Cream Shop

Third, on the list of essential pieces of equipment is a display freezer (also known as a scooping freezer).

What is a display freezer?

It is essentially a freezer that holds ice cream at a higher temperature than storage freezers – usually around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. If you try to scoop ice cream straight from a storage freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit trust me, it will be way too hard to scoop.

When I started looking at gelato display freezers for my ice cream shop, I was shocked at their high price of them. Then I discovered these amazing Excellence dual temperature cooler freezers – they have wide temperature range thermostats. These allow you to adjust the temperature all the way from freezing to refrigerated and everywhere else in between, with the turn of a dial. They are not like a traditional gelato display cabinet, but they work as a great alternative option. Also, dedicated displays can be built around them.

Excellence Freezers

The biggest advantage of the Excellence freezer is the temperature control. This lets you get your serving temperature for your scoops just right. Having them also in the kitchen gives you greater flexibility. If you suddenly need more fridge space, you can easily convert one to a fridge and vice versa.

Suddenly realize there is a demand for fresh-cut fruit as a topping and that you don’t need as much storage freezer space as you thought? Turn up one of the refrigerators and convert it from a storage freezer to a fridge. Decide you aren’t happy with the chilled soft serve you have been buying and want to move to a soft serve that needs to be stored frozen? Convert one from a fridge to a freezer.

You get the idea. Seriously though, as somebody who changed our ice cream concept from soft serve to scoop two years in, this flexibility is essential. I had to get rid of an expensive upright double-door fridge and buy a freezer when I made this move. I have since bought five Excellence cooler freezers in my time so far in the ice cream business.

D. Fridges for Ice Cream Shop

As a general rule, whether an ice cream shop needs a refrigerator or not depends on:

  • Raw Ingredients: Do any of your raw ingredients need to be kept chilled. For example, if you make your ice cream fresh using dairy milk you will need a fridge to store the milk. However, if you use UHT dairy-free milk to make ice cream or the powdered soft serve (which is just mixed with water – you can read more about it here – Everything You Need To Know About Soft Serve) you don’t necessarily need a fridge in your ice cream shop;
  • Beverages: If you plan on selling bottles of water then you will need a display fridge at the front of your shop to store these.
  • Toppings: Will you be serving any ice cream toppings that need to be kept chilled? For example, fresh fruit or some brands of mochi need to be refrigerated.

You will not need a fridge where you are launching an ice cream business where only ambient ingredients are used to make your ice cream and you don’t plan on selling any chilled toppings or drinks.

If any of your raw ingredients or toppings need to be kept chilled, then you will need a fridge in your commercial kitchen. If you plan on offering bottled water, then you will also require a display fridge.

Again, if you are not completely sure of your refrigeration requirements yet go for dual temp and you can always figure it all out later.

Do You Need a Blast Freezer for Ice Cream?

You do not necessarily need a blast freeze for an ice cream shop.

You do not need one for a soft serve or rolled ice cream shop.

Whether you will need a blast freezer for a scooped ice cream or gelato shop will depend on your ice cream recipes. A blast freezer gets the temperature of ice cream down to storage temperature in a matter of minutes.

When ice cream is extracted from a batch freezer it is extracted at a fairly high temperature. A blast freezer gets the temperature of the ice cream down to freezing quickly. This reduces the chances of larger ice cream crystals forming as your ice cream freezes more slowly in a storage freezer. This can then help maintain the creamy and smooth texture of your ice cream.

In Most Cases Not Needed

If you are making ice cream with high water and low-fat content, you may well need a blast freezer to give your ice cream a smoother texture. But if you are using a creamy mix with low water content it isn’t necessary. Our ice cream shop does not have a blast freezer and our ice cream is super creamy (we do not use any water in our ice cream recipes). In my opinion, in most cases, a blast freezer is not needed.

What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop - point of sale

Smaller Equipment Pieces Needed for Ice Cream Shops

That deals with the main large pieces of equipment that you may need for your ice cream shop. But there are still various smaller pieces of equipment you will require for your ice cream shop. I cover these in the below sections.

E. Blender for Ice Cream Shop

If you are making your frozen dessert base yourself, you will almost certainly need a stick blender (also known as an immersion blender). These are the long blender sticks that are handheld. They are, in my experience, the most efficient and effective way of mixing large qualities of liquids and mixes together.

I recommend this Waring medium-duty stick blender. It is the one we use at our ice cream shop. You can find it on Amazon here. If you use the blender a lot (which you will) be prepared to accept that they will regularly need to be replaced. I usually must replace the blender every six months. I also always have two blenders in our shop at once in case one stops working.

F. Scales for Ice Cream Shop

Most ice cream shops will need at least one set of scales. Any ice cream shop that makes its own ice cream base or soft serve base will need scales to weigh the ingredients.

The things to look for with a set of scales are that it has a high weight limit and that it comes with a charger. Plus try to pick one that is easy to clean.

My go-to is this Escali one from Amazon. It has a high weight capacity, but full disclosure it doesn’t come with a charger (it runs with batteries, but you can buy a charger for it). It also turns off automatically after 2 minutes if nothing extra is added to it. This can be super frustrating. However, the price point and high weight limit make up for this.

G. Toppings Counter for Ice Cream Shop

Will your ice cream shop be offering any chilled toppings? Such as fresh fruit or any sauces that need to be kept chilled? If so, you will require a toppings counter for the front of the house. For our toppings counter, we went for a drop-in counter like this one from webstaurantstore.com. We then had our contractor build the toppings counter around it. This also acts as our frozen storage for online orders.

If you only plan on selling ambient toppings such as sprinkles and nuts etc. you may not require a temperature-controlled toppings counter.

H. Point of Sale for Ice Cream Shop

If you want to charge money for your ice cream, you are going to need some type of Point-Of-Sale System (“PoS”). Point-of-sale systems are pieces of software and hardware that let you set up a menu and charge people via cash, credit card, and/or Google/Apple Pay.

PoS and Merchant Processing Services

There is a difference between PoS systems and Merchant Processing Services. However, sometimes the two can be bundled together. A point-of-sale system is the pieces of equipment and software that you use to take payments at your ice cream store.

Merchant processing services are the provider that you use to process credit card payments. There are a whole bunch of merchant service providers. Your bank as well as a bunch of individual providers will offer the service. Typically, whoever you use will charge you a flat fee plus a percentage of the transaction for the ability to process payments. You can shop around for the best deal. However, just accept it is something you need must incur as an expense in your business.

For example, at the time of writing Square charges 2.6% + 10¢ per tap, dip, or swipe transaction.

My Point-Of-Sale Setup

Below is the setup we have at our ice cream shop. We use Square as our merchant processing provider (as well as for our loyalty system, to send our weekly newsletter out and to run payroll – you can read more about this here – Ice Cream Shop Account – Everything You Need To Know).

  • iPad (to use the Square Payment App)
  • Square stand (to hold, spin, and charge iPad)
  • Square chip reader and dock (to take tap and chip payments)
  • Cash till (to store money)
  • Receipt printer (for printing receipts)

The iPad, Square stand, square chip reader, and dock are the important aspects of your point-of-sale setup. Very few people want a paper receipt (most are happy having it emailed over) and fewer and fewer people are paying with cash. However, you will still have some customers who want to pay by cash and or want a paper receipt.

Amazon has some options where you can buy all the hardware bundled together like this bundle here. This bundle includes the Stand for iPad 10.2″ & 10.5″, Chip Reader and Dock, USB Direct Thermal Printer, and Epsilont Cash Drawer. You will still need to buy the I pad like this one on Amazon here.

How Much Does Ice Cream Equipment Cost?

How much the equipment costs to start an ice cream shop depends on many factors such as

  • What kind of ice cream are you offering (soft serve, rolled, or scooped)?
  • How are you going to make your ice cream (buying in the premade mix or making it from scratch)?
  • How many flavors of ice cream are you offering at any one time?
  • What kind of toppings will you offer (ambient or chilled)?
  • Are you buying new or used equipment (used equipment will obviously be more expensive than new)?

The Minimum Cost For All Equipment

If you are opening the following kind of ice cream shop, you could probably get all the equipment you need for as little as $10k-$20k:

  • small ice cream shop
  • a small number of scooped flavors on the menu (so only one counter-top batch freezer is required)
  • ambient toppings and ice cream ingredients only (so no need for a fridge or chilled toppings counter)
  • willing to buy used equipment.

Costs for Other Types of Ice Cream Shop

If on the other end of the spectrum, you are planning on opening the following type of ice cream shop it could cost you a six-figure sum, so over $100k just to buy your equipment:

  • large ice cream shop (so need high-capacity machines)
  • want to offer soft serve
  • want to offer a large number of flavors of soft serve at one time e.g. ten flavors (so would require at least five dual flavors soft serve machines)
  • want to offer chilled toppings (requires chilled topping counter)
  • want to use soft serve mix that is stored frozen and chilled prior to use (will need freezers as well potentially as refrigerators).

If you want to read more about the costs involved in starting an ice cream shop, you can here – How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Shop.

What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop - the final lick

What Equipment Do You Need for An Ice Cream Shop – The Final Lick

What equipment do you need for an ice cream shop? In this post, we have talked about all the equipment you need to start an ice cream shop. Once you have found your ice cream space the first thing you are going to want to do is to think about how big your space is and how you can fit in your freezers and batch freezers. Do you have room for a walk-in freezer or will need to go with upright freezers? Where will your toppings counter go? Do you need a fridge? Work out your exact space requirements and then think about your freezers and batch freezer. At the end of the day, you will always need more freezer space than you think. Trust me.

Chilled Startup - Ice Cream Solves Everything

Time To Learn Some More

Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.

Chilled Startup Team

Since 2012, the Chilled Startup team has been in the ice cream business. From creating retail store ice cream concepts from scratch to ice cream trucks to selling ice cream pints wholesale to grocery store outlets to private and public events. We have even set up vegan and plant-based ice cream concepts. The ice cream business is one we understand inside and out.

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