Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard opens in Ponte Vedra


Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard threw a party Friday, June 7, for its grand opening at 840 A1A North, Ponte Vedra Beach, and attracted a large crowd of revelers, all seeking a cool treat on a hot afternoon.

Franchise owners Scott and Jenny Mclaughlin and their team kept busy as customers lined up at the window to order Italian ice, frozen custard, gelati or one of the other items from the Rita’s menu. The first 50 in line won free Rita’s Italian ice for a year.

Entertainment included performances by local dance troupes, a prize wheel, merchandise giveaways, a cornhole game, a balloon artist and photo opportunities with Rita’s mascot, Ice Guy.

The event culminated in a ribbon cutting for the community’s new frozen dessert business, which had a soft opening on May 15. Feedback has been positive.

“It’s good to hear people actually make comments about how excited they are to finally have us here locally,” said Scott Mclaughlin.

Previously, the only way to partake of Rita’s fare was to drive to one of the other franchises, the closest being in St. Augustine Beach or Jacksonville Beach.

“The best day I’ve had was three days ago when I saw young kids, their parents and their grandparents all sitting on the bench out front, just enjoying it together,” said Mclaughlin.

Rounding out the ownership team is Scott Mclaughlin’s father, Richard Mclaughlin. Other members of the family also work at the shop, which employs a total of 14. Hiring is made easier due to the franchise’s location, within a short drive to four high schools.

Scott Mclaughlin grew up in the Philadelphia-New Jersey area where Rita’s was founded and was an enthusiastic customer since the age of 13.

Rita’s offerings are different than what might be found at an ice cream shop. The Italian ice is made fresh daily on site from real fruit flavors. Rita’s has a rotating selection of more than 80 flavors.

The frozen custard is thicker and creamier than ice cream because one of the ingredients is egg yolk.

“The thick creaminess versus hard ice cream, it’s really night and day,” said Scott Mclaughlin.

One of the most popular selections is the gelati, which incorporates layers of Italian ice and custard. Mclaughlin describes it as “an explosion of flavor.”

The Mclaughlins have lived in St. Johns County for more than 20 years and are involved in the community. Scott Mclaughlin coaches baseball and football, and the family supports the St. Johns County Education Foundation, which does business as Investing in Kids, or INK! for short.

The Mclaughlins are also involved with a tennis tournament that annually raises between $15,000 and $20,000 for Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Florida, which offers children with serious illnesses an opportunity to enjoy a camp experience in a safe environment.

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard was founded in May 1984 by Philadelphia firefighter Bob Tumolo. The company has grown to more than 550 shops in more than 30 states since that time.

The Ponte Vedra shop is currently open noon to 9 p.m. seven days a week year-round. The phone number is 904-686-1495. The email address is ritaspontevedra@gmail.com.