Neither a heart attack nor a worldwide pandemic could stop John Sarandrea from opening his Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise. Both events happened within months of signing his franchise agreement, but they made him appreciate owning his shop in Hermitage, PA even more. “It truly is a dream come true,” he says.
Sarandrea recovered nicely from the heart attack and says the pandemic has had little negative impact on the actual business, except for delaying the grand opening. “COVID was never a threat. By design, we were set up for social distancing,” he says. With four walk-up windows and a drive-through, there are no points of service inside the stand-alone shop. “Business was booming from the moment we opened our doors in July (2020),” Sarandrea says. “We have been providing an escape from the realities of this difficult time. Rita’s offers a sense of normalcy. Families, friends, and local teams all come here for a dose of simple fun…to have a treat and hang out. It makes people happy.”
After a career as a firefighter, a collegiate basketball coach, and a school administrator, Sarandrea wanted to make his mark by owning a business. He was already immersed in his community from his previous positions, so Rita’s friendly neighborhood charm was a natural fit. “This business is all about bringing people together. We sponsor all kinds of local events.”
Sarandrea considers himself a lifelong learner and values the systems and tools Rita’s has established to help him build his business. “I can’t say enough about the corporate team. From the beautiful marketing materials they provide to the ongoing support, they have been with me every step of the way,” he says.
With plans to open more locations in the near future, Sarandrea has no regrets about choosing Rita’s…except one. “I wish I had done this sooner,” he says.
Doing business with a new generation
A good part of John Sarandrea’s business comes from DoorDash deliveries and drive-through guests. “As a business owner, you have to listen to your customers. Our younger guests have a different mindset. I don’t think the way my parents did, and my kids certainly don’t think like me,” he says. “This new generation is looking for convenience.” In fact, Sarandrea has a special freezer just for DoorDash orders.
Social media is also a big part of Sarandrea’s marketing strategy. “Posting our daily flavors gets people excited. We make our Italian Ice fresh daily and rotate from a base of 95 flavors.” Sarandrea’s shop features 16-20 flavors each day. Popular flavors like Mango and Swedish Fish® are always on our menu.