Rita’s Italian Ice is new and cool.
Make that new to Clovis — there are more than 600 shops in the United States and around the world.
But no matter the time zone, Rita’s is always cool with a menu featuring Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, either alone or in tasty combinations.
The shop on Shaw Avenue, across from Sierra Vista Mall, opened in June and held its grand opening on July 14.
Dr. Ben Steinberg is the local franchisee. He’s from Cherry Hill, N.J., where he and his childhood buddies would regularly trek to the neighborhood Rita’s. The shops are all over the northeastern states, Steinberg said.
“I grew up with Rita’s and have been a huge fan of their ‘cool treats,’ which is why I’m so thrilled to introduce the first location in Fresno County,” he said in a news release.
I caught up with Steinberg one evening as customers filled the shop, and he told me: “I wanted to bring my history with me, bring it to Clovis. The city is very family-oriented, and I want this to be a place where parents bring their kids and friends come with friends to relax.”
When 40-year-old Steinberg was a kid, Rita’s menu was limited to Italian Ices, and his favorite flavor was lemon. Still is.
OK, for us newbies, the question is: What’s an Italian Ice?
Steinberg gives this description: “It’s real fruit product mixed with water in the same way ice cream is made to produce a smooth, creamy frozen treat.” Creamy describes the texture, not the ingredients. It has no dairy products.
Italian Ice comes in 65 flavors, with 12 served daily and then new ones rotated in. The most popular flavors are, in order, mango, cotton candy, cherry, lemon, blue raspberry, Swedish fish and Sour Patch.
Italian Ices are available in different sizes, starting at $3.29.
Customers can sign up for Rita’s Cool Alerts. They go online to register their favorites among the 65 flavors and then get an email when those flavors are available.
Frozen Custard is the other mainstay of Rita’s menu. Steinberg describes it as similar to soft-serve ice cream but thicker, creamier and richer.
Frozen Custard comes in black raspberry, butter pecan, cheesecake, chocolate, coffee, cotton candy, mint, orange cream, pistachio and vanilla.
Frozen Custards are available in cups or cones (sizes vary, starting at $3.69), and they also can be served as sundaes, starting at $4.69. Choices of toppings include, but are not limited to, hot caramel, hot fudge, Gummy Bears, chocolate chips, whipped cream and peanut butter.
Other treats on the menu are:
▪ Cream Ice — an Italian Ice with some dairy added. Starts at $3.29.
▪ Gelati — made with two layers of Frozen Custard, with a layer of Italian Ice in between. Starts at $4.29
▪ Misto Shake — Italian Ice swirled with Frozen Custard. Starts at $4.29.
▪ Blendini — Italian Ice and Frozen Custard blended, with toppings added. Starts at $4.79.
▪ Milkshakes — made with Frozen Custard. One price: $5.29.
▪ Frozen Drink — Italian Ice swirled with extra water to give it a drinkable consistency. Starts at $3.29.
▪ Sugar-Free Italian Ice. Starts at $3.29.
The Italian Ices and Frozen Custards are fresh, Steinberg said. If they’re not sold in 36 hours, they are thrown away. They’re made at the Clovis store by “certified ice makers,” who are trained online by Rita’s corporate office.
Steinberg, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, and his wife, Dr. Jamie DiPietro, a board certified urologist, came to the area five years ago. “We wanted to leave the Northeast and experience California,” Steinberg said. “It’s been great. California has been very good to us.”
Early customer response to the Clovis shop also has been good, Steinberg said. Crystal Vera of Fresno — a first-time customer — enjoyed a mango Gelati on a recent evening.
“I had passed by and saw it was busy,” Vera said, explaining why she stopped in.
Her verdict on the Gelati? “It’s actually really good. I like that it’s something different from ice cream and yogurt. I’m very satisfied.”
Rita’s Italian Ice is at 1195 Shaw Ave. in the Sierra Pavilions Shopping Center. The telephone number is (559) 940-7616. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The shop is on Facebook and Instagram. Rita’s Italian Ice caters events such as weddings.