Dominick Boanno used to visit the Rita’s Italian Ice near his home in West Haven a lot.
He liked the product so much he decided to go into the business himself. “I love it,” Boanno said of the Italian ice and frozen custard sold in the shops.
Boanno and his two partners — Daniel Onofrio and Kevin Kellogg, both of Shelton — now have opened their third Rita’s location, at 783 River Road (Route 110) in Shelton.
This will be the first of their stores to operate year-round, based primarily on its location across the street from the Sports Center of Connecticut.
“It’s a big plus,” Boanno said of the Sports Center, which offers attractions from a golf driving range to ice skating rinks.
Their stores in Bridgeport and West Haven (they eventually purchased the one Boanno used to patronize) close during the winter. The partners also sell Rita’s products during events at Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard Arena.
Valley is a good market
Boanno said Shelton is a good market, and the Valley is part of the service region for their three-franchise agreement. The Shelton location opened in early April.
Andrea Onofrio, Daniel’s wife, said they became familiar with Rita’s while living in Pennsylvania, where the company started and there are many locations. “Who knew we’d open a couple of stores ourselves,” she said.
Their careers and backgrounds
The three partners all have day jobs. Boanno works in information technology at an environmental data company in Shelton,
Daniel Onofrio works in operations at the same company, and Kellogg works in finances at a maritime shipping firm. All the partners have three children.
Boanno grew up with Kellogg in Derby, and Kellogg then went to parochial high school with Onofrio.
They divide up responsibilities at the three locations, and also depend on general manager Heather Sayers, who oversees all locations.
Call them ‘treat teamers’
The three stores employ almost 50 people, but they are not called employees. They are known as “treat teamers,” Sayers said.
And the people who walk in the door are not called customers. “We call them ‘guests,’ because this is like a home,” Boanno said.
Boanno said they try to get involved in the community, holding “celebrity scoop nights” when coaches, teachers or others get behind the counter in return for a percentage of the sales for a school or nonprofit entity.
“We do a lot in the community,” said Andrea Onofrio.
Many flavors available
Rita’s offers up to 60 Italian ice flavors, with perhaps 16 to 18 available at one time. The custard comes in four varieties, including a rotating one.
The most popular Italian ice flavors are mango, Swedish fish, lemon, blue raspberry and cotton candy, according to Sayers.
Busy times are after school and after dinner, and particularly weekends. Weather is a big factor. A hot day brings crowds.
Some offerings unique to Rita’s are Gelati (layered frozen custard and Italian ice) and Blendini (a thick blend). They also do sundaes, milkshakes and cakes, and offer toppings.
Rita’s offers catering and can do corporate events, birthday parties and even weddings.
Controlling yourself, store hours
Boanno said the first few years in the business, he perhaps consumed a bit too many of Rita’s products. He’s since come up with a strategy to limit his own intake.
“I make it quick when in here,” he said.
The Shelton Rita’s Italian Ice is open seven days a week. The hours are Sunday to Thursday, noon-9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, noon-10 p.m. The hours may be expanded after Memorial Day.