Star City Six: Mike Malone
Rita’s Italian Ice & Custard of Lincoln serves up its signature selection of fresh frozen treats year-round. With dozens of flavors to choose from, you can have an ice day every day! Mike Malone is the owner of the Rita’s Italian Ice & Custard of Lincoln (www.ritasoflincoln.com).
Tell us a little about your business.
Rita’s is a Philadelphia-based dessert concept. It was started in 1984 by a retired firefighter who decided to sell Italian Ice, aka ‘water ice,’ from his back porch. That really took off, so he turned the operation into a business, naming it after his wife. The flavor and consistency of the frozen treat were quickly perfected, including chunks of real fruit and various add-ins. Rich, creamy, delicious custard and other Italian Ice variations and custard-based treats have been added to the menu over the years. Today, there are over 600 Rita’s locations in the U.S. However, Rita’s have only existed outside of the core East Coast market for a few years now.
How did you get started in the business?
My daughter, who attends Wichita State University, introduced my wife and I to Rita’s. We thought it was a delicious and unique product unlike any other frozen treat we’d ever tried. We visited the Wichita Rita’s so often her freshman year that we decided to investigate bringing a franchise to Nebraska. We purchased the area development rights for Nebraska and the rest, as they say, is history!
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced professionally?
Starting a new franchise in a new market selling a product that many Midwesterners are not terribly familiar with has presented quite the challenge. As an engineer who has spent most of his lifelong career in a consulting role, I’ve been involved with the marketing of engineering services, but that was extent of my experience and it had little to do with promoting unique frozen desserts. During training they say ‘The product sells itself – you just have to get it into customer’s mouths!’ and I truly believe that because it’s amazing and I’ve rarely met someone who has tried it and doesn’t love it. What we offer at Rita’s are truly unique and superior products in the frozen treat market. Come try it out and see why for yourself!
Tell us a little about your family.
I’ve been married to my wife Elynn for 31 years. We have three children – two daughters, Michaela (28) and Kaitlyn (21), and a son, Trevor (15). We also have one grandchild and another on the way.
What do you see as one of the biggest turning points in your life?
Dr. Pat McCoy, a former UNL Civil Engineering Professor, took an interest in me and helped shape the direction I would go professionally.
What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
Watch my kids play sports or work around my acreage.
What is the most unique or interesting thing about you that most people probably don’t know?
I shook President Jimmy Carter’s hand when he visited Doane College in 1976.
If you could choose only one descriptive word to be remembered as, what would it be?
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
You’ve Got to Stand for Something by Aaron Tippin.
If you could have dinner with one famous person from the past or present, who would it be?
If our readers would like to contact you, how should they do so?