Ronn and Karin Gookin are not new to the entrepreneur world. They bought their first business, a flooring store years ago. With no food service background, it was an idea presented to them by their partner, John Nelson, to start producing and selling Italian Ice in the Grand Valley. In New York City, where John is from, it is not unusual to see an Italian Ice cart on every corner and in every park. However, here in Grand Junction it is a brand new market. Sure, they have competition from ice cream trucks and Gelato shops, but once you try their brand of Italian Ice, Gelu, there is no denying that it is unlike anything else. They use fresh fruit in almost all of their products and it is completely dairy free.
Even with the Gookin’s extensive business background, it took a lot of research to turn their idea into a reality – they first had to learn how to make Italian Ice. They started with old recipes from John’s east coast friends and added their own twists. They read books, scoured the internet, and quizzed Italian Ice experts. From there, the business has soared. With two full time jobs, making Italian Ice in the evenings has turned into a family activity for the Gookins. Their two sons are a big part of the business by making flavor suggestions, helping make the ices, delivering carts to events, and selling the ice. Gelu currently sells their ice daily in downtown Grand Junction as well as at Farmers Markets, rodeos, special events & festivals, sporting events and more. With over 100 scheduled events for the summer of 2014 and more rolling in everyday, they continue to expand. What started with 2 carts has turned into 6 in less than a year.
Gelu’s owners attribute some of their success to their relationship with the Small Business Development Center and the Business Incubator Center’s Commercial Kitchen Program. Ronn says “The Incubator did whatever they could to help us get started. The credibility of working through the program and being part of a well-known and well-respected kitchen has added great value to out business.” The Gookin’s have continued to meet with SBDC coaches for everything from QuickBooks to Health Department Rules and Regulations. They are thankful for the flexibility of the SBDC coaches, who have always been willing to work around their schedule. When asked for advice to give future entrepreneurs, Ronn says, “Starting a business is hard. You would be crazy not to come to the SBDC for advice; there is no better place to go.”