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The Coast News

Rita’s brings delicious Italian Ice and Custard to Carlsbad

David Boylan

Kent Harle and his son Jack are regulars at Rita’s Italian Ice in Carlsbad
Kent Harle and his son Jack are regulars at Rita’s Italian Ice in Carlsbad. Photo David Boylan

Whenever someone gives me a tip for a story and mentions there are lines out the door, that’s usually a good sign that it’s worth checking out. Then, when I heard the name of the place was Rita’s, which just happens to be my mom’s name, and one I don’t hear much anymore, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out Rita’s started out in Philadelphia in 1984 when Bob Tumolo, a former Philadelphia firefighter, decided to open a small Italian Ice business to augment his income. He opened his first store in Bensalem, Pennsylvania and named the business after his wife, Rita. Bob and his mother, Elizabeth, set to work making their special formulation of Italian Ice fresh daily. The mother and son team added chunks of fresh fruit to the recipes and made sure to throw away any unsold product after 36 hours. The Italian Ice, which was also referred to as water ice, was a big hit with Philadelphians, who are arguably the most discriminating water ice eaters in the United States. So yes, add water ice to Philly Cheesesteaks as another must-try when visiting Philadelphia.

Rita’s Italian Ices are fat, cholesterol, and trans-fat free and they also offer sugar-free options. There is also a cream ice that is a richer and creamier version of the Italian Ice. The flavoring is mixed into the ice before or during the freezing instead of at the point of sale. Rita’s uses proprietary batch machines to make the product fresh every day in each store. There are currently more than 40 flavors of Ice, with others continuously being developed and introduced.

And then there is the custard, a smooth and creamy delight. It’s offered in Vanilla, Chocolate, Orange Cream, Coffee, and Strawberry. Rita’s Old Fashioned Frozen Custard can be enjoyed in a cup or a cone with sprinkles, M&M’s® Minis®, hot fudge or caramel toppings.

Rita’s also has some concoctions that were developed in-house. The Misto® is a combination of Italian Ice and custard flavors blended together into a cool, creamy, customizable drink. Gelatis is their number one selling treat and is a layering of Italian Ice and custard. The Blendinis® is a personalized blended treat with the guest’s favorite Italian Ice flavor, choice of custard and a crunch and the crunch options include all the popular candy bar and cookie options. Kids have a blast with all of these fun combinations and it makes the experience very interactive for them. Creamy custard milkshakes, custard cookie sandwiches and custard cakes are also available. I took some custard cookie sandwiches home and they are a constant temptation in my freezer…but I’m sure glad they are there.

Rita’s Carlsbad is the first Rita’s Italian Ice location in San Diego County and my hunch is there are going to be more soon. The local owners became familiar with Rita’s when they lived on the East Coast where most of the stores close for the winter. Their Carlsbad location will be open year-round and they have plans to expand in North County. A formal Grand Opening is planned on July 18th where the first 50 guests in line who bring a school supply donation will receive a free regular size Italian Ice for a year. In addition, Rita’s Carlsbad will be providing free regular size Italian Ice all day in celebration of the Grand Opening.

Rita’s is already heavily involved with the community, as the owners have children that attend local schools. The have partnered with the Carlsbad Education Foundation to provide school supplies and are the official frozen dessert of the San Diego Sockers.

They offer catering and fundraising opportunities for schools and sports organizations so if you have kids in school and are looking for something a little different for you next fundraiser, Rita’s would be a good place to check out. They also offer a 20% discount to military and firefighters with ID.

Rita’s is definitely worth checking out. It’s a unique, refreshing treat that is fun to order and eat. They are located at 3263 Camino de los Coches Carlsbad, or reach them at (760) 753-5700. Find them on Facebook or check out their web site at

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