Seven years ago, Dominic Johnson of Isabella’s Ice Cream wanted to start an ice cream truck.
However, he struggled with the idea of driving the standard, creepy ice cream truck.
“The business literally started with the truck,” Kristel Johnson, Dominic’s wife and business partner, said. “It was a horribly creepy van playing horribly creepy music and Dominic just said that there had to be a better way.”
So, inspired by an old-fashioned Ford Model T, Dominic designed an electric truck of his own. From there, Dominic and Kristel started Isabella’s Ice Cream.
What began as a delivery and catering service in a redesigned Ford Model T has since blossomed into a brick and mortar shop on Fourth Avenue.
The ice cream is made from scratch using as many local ingredients as possible. If the ingredients aren’t local, Kristel makes certain they’re sustainable. The ice cream is pasteurized onsite and is always fresh.
“Our ice cream is all-natural and pure with good, wholesome ingredients,” Kristel said. “And then we also offer fun sprinkles and candies that you can choose to add.”
As for the flavors, Isabella’s Ice Cream offers 18 at a time. About eight of them are staple flavors, while the other 10 rotate. Kristel also likes to offer 2-3 vegan sorbets.
Among the many staples are Sonoran Coffee, Caramel, Cookies and Cream, Minty Chocolate Chip, French Vanilla, and Lavender Vanilla. The Pistachio and Rose flavors are also becoming more popular.
The rotating flavors at Isabella’s Ice Cream reflect Kristen’s own creativity.
“My inspiration comes from all sorts of things,” she said.
Seasons are a big source of inspiration. During peach season, Kristel uses a lot of peaches. For the Fourth of July, she used blueberries. During the holidays, you might see a lot of peppermint or candy cane flavors.
Events are also a spark of inspiration. As an example, Kristel created a rainbow-colored vanilla ice cream to celebrate the new rainbow crosswalk in the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street.
“I like to play with flavor combinations,” she said. “I can see a dessert or muffin at a restaurant and think about how that could work as an ice cream. I’ve even smelled candles and thought about making an ice cream similar to it.”
Many of the ice cream flavors are traditional with a slight edge, such as the Spicy Chocolate and Lavender Vanilla flavors. Isabella’s Ice Cream also serves a number of flavors that can’t be found elsewhere, such as Coconut Ash, Desert Honey, Snickerdoodle, and Strawberry-Basil sorbet.
Before the brick and mortar opened, Isabella’s Ice Cream was restricted to serving only ice cream. Now, they’re able to serve many novelty items such as choco-tacos, ice cream sandwiches, shakes, fro-nuts, popsicles, and chocolate-dipped bon bons. The novelties are also made from scratch — Kristel bakes all the cookies and waffle cones.
“With the truck, I can’t do any of that,” she said. “I love doing them — it’s just another form of creativity and a way for me to step out of my comfort zone.”
And, if you’re wondering, the good ole Ford Model T is still around through Tapingo’s delivery service. The truck is also available for catering, and you might catch it at events around town such as the Fourth Avenue Street Fair and Cyclovia.
Isabella’s Ice Cream is also served at a number of restaurants throughout Tucson, including BOCA Tacos y Tequila, Lerua’s, Agustin Kitchen, Seis Kitchen, Renee’s Organic Oven, and many more market locations and social venues.
Isabella’s Ice Cream
210 N. 4th Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85705
Dessert in the Desert is a series highlighting desserts in Tucson. The main courses at restaurants get all the rage, as they should, but what about desserts? They deserve a spotlight, too.