Nothing says “the first day of spring” like free Rita’s. It’s a simple, delicious dessert that consists of water, fruit, and sugar, and its loyal customer base is hard to beat.
Based in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Rita’s Italian Ice, or better known to locals as “wooder ice,” this sweet treat has been a staple in the diets of Eastern Pennsylvanians everywhere since 1984. And free water ice on the first day of spring has been marked on the calendars starting in 1992 when they had the first promotional event.
You’d never guess that founder Bob Tumolo opened the first location on a front porch by today’s success. The franchise currently has over 600 locations internationally, which is quite the leap from the three that existed in 1987. As far as Canada and China, anyone can have Rita’s, sometimes even all-year round, if you’re lucky enough to have a walk-in store near you.
Thanks to Bob’s business acumen and high standards when it came to quality, he and his brother began to build an empire. People responded well to the recipe Bob and his mother perfected and especially liked how fresh all of the ingredients were, which set them apart as a company. Bob also took the initiative to bring in an attorney, accountant, and supplier early on in the franchise, which helped him market effectively before selling to current CEO Jim Rudolph in 2005.
Today, their menu expands not just to Italian ice, but cream ice, frozen custard, sundaes, and their own mix of products like gelatis, mistos, and blendinis. They combine the delicious flavors of fruity water ice with creamy custard, creating a new twist on old favorites. You can even turn a water ice into a frozen drink if you’re feeling thirsty. Creative concoctions like mistos and blendinis and unique flavors like Swedish Fish helped the franchise compete with other dessert chains. It’s the commitment to a quality product that keeps customers coming back.
Rita’s has also partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand and helped the nonprofit raise millions of dollars for kids with cancer.
While Rita’s might not be quite as famous as Wawa, and maybe you have another “wooder ice” place you like better, it will always have a special place in Philadelphia’s heart and its food pyramid. They continue to better themselves and look forward to serving many generations to come, all enjoying a frozen treat together.
And, yes, if you’re wondering — Rita’s was named after a real person, none other than Bob’s wife!