Cape Coral Business Spotlight: Zirilli's Chilly Treats
At A Glance
Originally from Philadelphia, Zirilli moved to Cape Coral in 2008. Seeing a need for a Pennslyvania favorite, "Italian Ice", found an investor close to home to open her own Italian Ice establishment right here in Cape Coral.
Zirilli recently sat down with CapeCoral.com to discuss her business, which will, coincidentally celebrate its one year anniversary this Sunday, August 23 between 2:00pm and 4:00pm with a special celebration at their Pine Island Road location.
Can you describe your business?
Zirilli’s Chilly Treats is a small family owned business. We make homemade Italian Ice with real fruit. We also carry Queenie’s Homemade Ice Cream and sell a variety of retro candy. We make a product called a Gelati, which is a layered product consisting of Italian Ice, Ice Cream, and Italian Ice on top. It’s absolutely the best of both worlds.
What makes Zirilli’s Chilly Treats unique?
Zirilli’s was truly “made with love”. Our shop began as a joke when my husband and I moved here in 2008. I noticed there was no Italian Ice, or as we called it growing up South Philly, “wooder ice”, aka “water ice”. I joked with my husband about opening a shop. Finally in December 2013 my husband said “what are you going to do, either do it or shut up. I’m tired of hearing you just talk about it”. A few weeks later while out to dinner with my parents, my dad was talking about selling our childhood home in Philly and needing to decide where to invest the money. That’s when the door opened and I said “I have something you could invest in.” He said, “what your water ice shop?” At that point he was on board 110%. My dad and I began researching what we needed to do to open a business in the Cape. Our first stop was the SBDC, where we met with Russ Winstead. He gave us advice on choosing our location, marketing ideas, and the financial side of owning a business. Russ has become a friend, mentor and counselor over the past year. I then signed up for the Microenterprise Course offered by Goodwill Industries to help me learn about operating my own business.
How did you get into the business?
Timing just seems to be everything. After talking with my parents about helping me open the shop, I found out that my team and I were being laid off from our positions at the end of June 2014. Knowing this I started researching more and more how to open an Italian Ice shop. My dad and I took a seminar in Brooksville, FL on how to use the batch freezer to make ice cream and Italian Ice.
I would have to say our biggest success so far has been seeing how proud my dad was when we opened. My dad had always wanted to open a business when I was younger, but my mom was too afraid to take the risk. So helping me open Zirilli’s he got to live vicariously through me. However, this excitement was short lived. About 7 weeks after we opened my dad fell from a ladder in his garage and suffered a severe brain trauma and was in a vegetative state. Twelve days after he fell my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, which had already spread throughout her body.
This was certainly a difficult time for me. As it was I was new to the business world, being preschool teacher since high school, this was all new to me and I was looking forward to learning together with my dad. Working alongside of him from the day we signed the lease to just before he fell was one of the most amazing experiences for me. Memories that I will cherish forever.
Getting through the following months was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I would get up go to the hospital to see mom and dad then come to the shop and work the day. I had to often hold back the tears keeping a smile on my face as I served my customers. We managed to keep going even through all this trauma. On December 18, 2014 my mom passed and 15 days later on January 2, 2015 my dad passed. My greatest challenge since then has been moving forward without them and focusing on making Zirilli’s a household name in honor of my parents. I know my parents would want us to continue making Zirilli’s a success. I also have to give mention to my amazing staff/family who kept the shop going on days that were too difficult for me and when we went up North for my parents services. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people behind me. They picked up the pieces of my life when everything fell apart. My customers have also been amazing. Often times they would just stop in to see how I was doing, or to pray with me. Their love and support means the world to me.
What are your future plans for Zirilli's Chilly Treats?
As we move forward, we are continuing to build strong relationships with our customers. I want Zirilli’s to be a fun, family oriented shop. A place where you can come relax, play with the Etch A Sketch, or solve the Rubik’s Cube. We are also looking into getting our wholesale license and continue to expand our catering events. I think Zirilli’s would be a great addition to someone’s wedding reception, birthday, or graduation party. I would love to open a second shop somewhere in SWFL and my ultimate dream goal is to have Zirilli’s in Disney. Dad always said to dream big!