Anton Fester worked in British American Tobacco’s marketing department for close to ten years before founding Ice Cream Ninjas, an ice cream outlet that incorporates tossing ice cream around and mashing different flavours and textures on a specially designed slab.
What possessed him?
Early in 2010, Anton’s position was made redundant. He was faced with two options — apply for a middle management position at the company or take the package. This was the “strong push” he needed to pursue his own venture. “I could take the package and do something with it. I always loved food, it allows you to express your creativity,” he says.
Anton first considered buying a franchise, but found that his options were limited.
Ice Cream Ninjas won the recent FNB Social Media competition by receiving the most votes for its YouTube video about the business. The prize was a radio advertising campaign to the value of R100 000. Anton believes this achievement also opened dialogue with the bank, which he hopes will assist with securing funding for the growth of his brand.
The next step
The first outlet, which opened at the Tyger Valley Shopping Mall in December, is only a temporary location as the centre is undergoing a revamp. Anton is looking forward to moving into a permanent spot and says he will increase the service offering. He is planning the opening of a second store, which will also be based in Cape Town, but hopes to eventually expand to Johannesburg. Ice Cream Ninjas also has a mobile unit which is available for corporate events.
Knowing that he had to open the first Ice Cream Ninjas outlet by December 2010, Anton didn’t have a lot of time. He had a mentor to guide him through running the business, but also needed to research the technical side of the business. He met with a local engineer to develop the slab and did a lot of reading about the global players in the ice cream industry. “I read about US-based Ben & Jerry’s, researched business plans and Googled ‘ice cream shops’ to read as many articles as possible.”
Something made Anton remember an ice cream shop he had been to in New York, five years before. “I remembered that when I walked in I knew this place was different, and I walked out with good ice cream.” He then sat in front of his computer and Googled ‘Ice Cream Shop, New York’. He found the company and discovered they had international franchises. Anton considered becoming a master franchisor in South Africa, but this would be too costly. On doing further research about the mixing concept, he discovered that there were other companies doing something similar, and that there was an opportunity for him to start his own business, using the concept, but packaging it differently.
The ‘Ninja’ experience
The ice cream shop Anton experienced in New York had the staff singing to entertain customers. “I decided I was going to throw the ice cream around. This is the coolest bit about it, and gives customers an experience, not just a transaction. We want peoples’ visit to be a highlight,” he explains. With nine base flavours and 37 toppings which Anton says are better described as “stuff we mix in”, customers have more than 40 000 variations available to them. You can choose from one of Ice Cream Ninjas’ mixes or experiment with your own flavours to make up your own. Once a customer has chosen their flavours and toppings, the ingredients are thrown onto the slab and mixed together. The person serving will often arrange for a colleague to subtly slip behind the customer with an empty tub, and once the mixture is ready it becomes airborne to be caught in the tub. “We’ve had people screaming and squealing with delight,” says Anton, adding that the longest distance reached so far is around 20 metres.