We often get asked about our story – “How did Kona Ice come about?”; “Where did this idea come from?” There’s a lot to be said about the reason a company is started. It defines the purpose of the brand. It gives us our identity. This whole crazy company started with an experience – a bad experience. Born out of that bad experience was a desire to make a good experience.
An ice cream truck drove up to Tony’s house – you know the kind. It was creepy, dirty, and off-putting. So much so that his youngest daughter was hesitant to even approach it. This got his wheels turning: What if the truck was clean? What if the driver was warm, friendly, and presentable? What if the product was actually really good? What if they actually cared about the community they served?
After all, the ice cream truck driving around is a time-honored tradition. At one time, it wasn’t creepy and scary. It used to be all those things he had wondered. He thought there was a way we could get back to that place, but this time with shaved ice. And that was the beginning of Kona Ice.
Those questions that initially ran through Tony’s mind are the cornerstones of our brand: cleanliness, friendliness, a delicious product, and giving back to our community. The story of how Kona Ice started has informed who we are as a brand. Those core principles are all things that make up who we are as Kona Ice.
2007 – 2008
In June of 2007, the very first Kona Ice truck hit the streets. Tony drove it around Boone County, Kentucky and started developing the business model. Included in those prototypes was the very first installment of the Flavorwave. As we rolled into 2008, Tony decided to start franchising and the very first Kona Ice franchise was awarded. As it turns out, 2008 ended up being a big year. We awarded fifteen franchises and started our own website – www.kona-ice.com. Oh, and we hired that one guy – Tom Lamb.
2009 – 2010
In 2009, the first edition of our Success Guide was created. It was ten pages long. That year, we awarded 56 franchises and the second generation of the Kona truck was introduced. 2010 brought us 51 new franchises and the very first Kona Konvention. Along with that came the very first Kona Trailer. And we reached our first giveback milestone – $1 million!
2011 – 2012
We really started to pick up steam in 2011. We added 80 franchises and hit $3 million total in giveback to date. We also had the second annual Kona Konvention here in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2012, we added a lot of new fun things to Kona Ice. We established Kona Kollege and introduced the brand new Kona Mini. We sold 36 minis that year. We held our third annual Kona Konvention and added 96 franchises.
The year 2013 brought many exciting changes for Kona Ice. For starters, we went international and opened up our very first franchise in Canada! We were also named “The #1 New Franchise” in Entrepreneur Magazine – this was particularly exciting! We introduced a new, healthier product line in Vita-Blend and Performance Blend and we launched our very first app – a reader app for kids. Also in 2013, we began our Flavor Our World initiative and added 128 more trucks to the system. But we didn’t stop there, we also added 78 Kona Minis as well! On top of that, we were featured on ABC’s The Bachelorette, which was a really fun experience! The cherry on top was that we reached $13 million in giveback. This was truly a breakout year for Kona Ice.
In 2014, we continued to grow at a rapid rate adding 141 franchisees to our family. This brought us to KEV #500! We also sold 58 more Kona Minis to franchisees all across the country. We started our very first Instagram campaign (#celebratelife), and our Vita-Blend became Smart Snack approved allowing us to continue to work with schools. This brought us to a huge giveback milestone of $20 million! We were named #1 Food Franchise by Franchise Business Review, which we announced at our fifth annual Kona Konvention.
In 2015, we were named #1 in Frozen Desserts by Entrepreneur Magazine and earned a top spot in Entrepreneur’s Company Culture Awards. How many trucks did we sell? 107! And we sold 29 Kona Minis. This was also the year we introduced our brand new Kona Kiosk, of which we sold 28.
Last year was another benchmark year for Kona Ice. We hit 800 Kona trucks sold, selling over 120 more trucks. We sold 50 of our Kona Kiosks and 22 of our Kona Minis. This was the year we introduced our first gaming app, Island Rush. We also developed a new flavor product called Fruit First that has fruit as the first ingredient. Along with that, we started our own flavor company, Kreations Flavoring. We brought all of our flavoring in house and started trademarking our flavor names. And last but not least, we unveiled a new piece of equipment: the KEV 2.0. It’s a smaller version of the KEV with almost all of the same features. Where will 2017 take us? The possibilities are limitless.
This was the year of Krafted Kona Ice. A dozen new flavors were introduced at Konvention 2017 that were a little more adult-oriented, like Lavender Lemonade, Coconut Lime, Bourbon Black Cherry Vanilla, and Pomegranate Acai. To go along with those more sophisticated flavors, the Sunset Wrap was introduced as a truck wrap option that had deep purple and orange tones to appeal to our adult fans. The Sunset Wrap and Krafted Flavors became fan favorites at corporate events and weddings, and became a great addition to the Kona line of products. 152 new KEVs left Florence, Kentucky to both new and current franchisees.
This year we went to some flavor extremes introducing a line of spicy and extra sour flavors. We had 11 Kona Kolleges and added 133 more franchises to the Kona family. At our Konvention, we were honored to have the great Lou Holtz inspire our franchisees with the message: “Do what’s right, and show people you care.”
The company continued to be on a very steep growth trajectory in 2019. We landed at number 67 on Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500. And with 131 more trucks put on the road in 49 states, the Kona brand presence continued to saturate communities. At our 2019 Konvention, everyone went to summer camp where we gathered together for Camp Kona. We introduced a new special flavor called Moonflower, which continues to grow in popularity.
Kona Ice is a resilient company. Soon after we adjourned our annual Konvention in February, the country shut down. Schools and businesses were no longer meeting together. Everyone was home…and what did that mean for Kona? Getting back to where it all started: in neighborhoods. To help our franchisees get back, we created an online platform called Kurbside Kona which gave parents a means to order Kona and have it delivered to their neighborhoods. Kona Ice became a very bright spot during a very bleak time. While 2020 presented many challenges, Kona Ice rallied, dug in, and helped our franchisees make it through a very stressful time by negotiating with lenders, researching, and providing the most up-to-date information in regard to SBA programs, grants and loans, and continually reaching out with support.
This year, efforts have been made to roll out Travelin’ Tom’s Coffee Truck. Just like the KEV, the BEV books events, parties, and festivals around the country. From deluxe coffee like Nitro Cold Brew to Hot Chocolate and Tea, there is something for everyone on Tom’s Truck. With sixteen franchisees driving out this year to serve their delicious drinks, we can’t wait to see how Travelin’ Tom’s grows! And on the Kona Ice side of things, our very own Tony Lamb was named one of the nation’s most influential CEOs by Nation’s Restaurant News. Now that’s sweet.