A new shop in Sarasota using liquid nitrogen promises ice cream in a flash.
A team of six nurses from Manatee Memorial Hospital partnered to open the first SubZero Ice Cream & Yogurt franchise location east of the Mississippi River at the Expo Center on Clark Road.
Inside you won't find cases of ice cream, but instead a 1,000 liter tank of liquid nitrogen that pumps through a line to flash freeze a combination of creams and flavoring to make more than 37 trillion combinations of ice cream, yogurt, custard, milkshakes, smoothies and even pies (actually, Pi, thanks to their science and math humor).
"Your imagination is the only limitation of what SubZero can offer you as far as ice cream," Wirth said.
The men of the group are nurse anesthetists while the women worked in labor and delivery. The team includes: Jen and Don Wirth of Bradenton, Terri and Brad Lord of Bradenton and Chrystie and Gabe Ramsey of Lakewood Ranch.
"We all say we're gas passers during the day because we give volatile anesthetic to people to get them rendered unconscious for anaesthesia for surgery, then we come in at night and we pass liquid nitrogen," Wirth said.
It makes sense that a team of nurses working with gases would open a franchise. The company's founder Jerry Hancock used his chemistry background from studying at Bringham Young University as part of his tools of the trade to help invent the concept.
So how does your ice cream get made? Choose from a list of 50 flavors then select a mix-in (first one is free).
"Anymore than three gets kind of gross," Wirth said.
From there, science meets culinary arts as the workers at SubZero take you on an adventure through a bit of a food science lab, explaining what's happening to your creation at each step.
Here comes the fun part. Wirth hits a button that activates the liquid nitrogen, pushing it through a vented line where it will spray the cream to freeze at negative 321 degrees to zap the cream so cold it becomes ice cream.
"I have to keep spinning the bowl because the bowl gets really cold," Wirth explains to a customer. "We don't want to put gloves on because if the liquid nitrogen gets inside the glove, it's a contained area and it burns us even worse. Hot oil is even worse than working with liquid nitrogen because it sticks to you, but liquid nitrogen just rolls off. "
As Wirth spins the bowl and stirs the mix, the cream goes from a liquid to a solid as the fog from the nitrogen settles and with a wave of the hand, the ice cream is revealed, ready to be scooped in a cup or a waffle cone.
The store appears to be a hit with area teenagers. Suncoast Polytech High School student James Draper said his friends were talking about this shop all over Twitter and Facebook about how the liquid nitrogen blasts through the vents, so he had to check it out.
James opted for a chocolate and marshmallow combination, took a bite and was impressed.
"It's fabulous. Freakin' great," James said, smiling.
And the price is right, too.
"Five bucks for a medium with all the stuff you get—look how much stuff you get.," James said, dipping his bowl toward the reporter. "It's crazy. I think it's great because all of our local places around are overpriced."
The ice cream comes out smooth and creamy because of the process, so there's no freezer burn involved.
"It's flash frozen, so it cannot create ice crystals," Wirth said. And no freezer burn, too.
If you prefer another famous flash frozen ice cream, Dippin' Dots, the store can freeze the ice cream enough to make it as solid as Dippin' Dots, but they can't manage to make the actual dots. There's a practical use to freezing the ice cream that cold, too, if customers request ice cream to go.
"If you want it hard, we can make it that way and it'll be nice and soft when you get home," Wirth said.
If you can't figure out who to combine, there's a prefixed menu called Sensations. Or you can bring in your own milk.
"We've had people bring in their bases and say hey, can you make ice cream with my coconut milk?" Wirth said.
Given all the science behind the food, SubZero partners with local schools for field trips, and the Sarasota location is no different.
"We're trying to partner with our local schools—Ashton Elementary—and a lot of other local schools in the area to come out and educate the kids about chemistry," Wirth said. "We want to make chemistry cool. We want to talk to them about elements, the periodic table, talk to them about volume expansion."
High schoolers can also learn about boiling points and other lessons, Wirth added.
If the excitement expressed by customers is any indication, business will not be cooling off at SubZero anytime soon.
SubZero Ice Cream and Yogurt
4065 Clark Road (Expo On Clark)
Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday
Noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday