The man who introduced this fruity, low-fat phenomenon to Fort Lauderdale is Richie Childs. Born in Philadelphia, Childs decided to move to South Florida when he met his partner, Raul Diaz. Childs, who had years of experience in the food service business, decided to open Richie’s Italian Ices & Cappuccino after a day at the beach.
“We came off the beach and realized there aren’t any Italian Ice stands around, so I pulled out the Yellow Pages—there wasn’t google then– and looked it up and researched it and realized they needed an Italian Ice Store.”
Childs decided to take the matter into his own hands and open up his own stand – right by Commercial Blvd. and Dixie Highway. It’s been almost 20 years since he opened Richie’s Italian Ices & Cappuccino and almost 20 years that he and Diaz have been together.
Since most South Floridians didn’t know what an Italian Ice was, Childs had to get out and let the public know about his product.
“I had to start out educating them and went out to schools to do fundraising,” he said.
Word started to get out and his stand became quite popular. His school appearances were also a hit and he started to get very involved in the community.
“Year after year, I go out to all of the schools in the area,” he said. “I do a lot of fundraising with them.”
He has also done fundraising with the Pride Center and MCC Church.
The entrepreneur ventured further in the frozen dessert market a few years back – he is one of the original owners of Gelato Station on Wilton Drive.
Through the years, there has been very minor changes to his original baby, Richie’s Gourmet Italian Ices. After a year, he decided to add espresso, cappuccino, cuban coffee and ice cream to the menu. The coffee was very popular with the customers because they use the same bean that is used at Miami’s beloved Versaille.
“Once they taste it, they always come back for it,” Childs said.
The other changes were two remodels of the stand – one in 2004 and another in September 2010.
One thing that has never changed is the recipe for their Italian Ices.
“Everything is made from fruit juices, fruit extracts and we use fruit in all of them.” Childs explained. “They are mostly all-natural except for the coloring.”
Childs said that he once tried to make the cherry without the red food coloring, but it wasn’t met with much enthusiasm.
Cotton Candy is his most popular flavor of Italian Ice, but his personal favorite is cherry and tangerine swirled together. He said that the most popular coffee drink he sells is Cuban Coffee. His personal fave is Double Espresso Italian-style.
Childs said that his place is busiest during the day. Lots of people stop by after they go to the beach to cool off with an Italian Ice.
“On a hot day, you want something refreshing,” Childs said.
But it’s not just the product that has made Richie’s Gourmet Italian Ices & Cappuccinos such a success — is his staff, he explained.
“We’re all like a family and I’m like their big brother,” he said.
Richie’s Gourmet Italian Ices & Cappuccino is open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Stop by and see for yourself what makes Richie’s such a great place!