'Sweet Treats' Served on A Retro Set of Wheels

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Alexander Peet | The Daily Wildcat Isabella's Ice Cream shop on 4th Ave. in Tucson, Ariz.

Sweet treats crafted with homemade ice cream are served up daily at Isabella’s Ice Cream shop, a local ice cream parlor on 4th Avenue. Isabella’s Ice Cream shop is known for its 1925 ice cream truck in the middle of their establishment.

The truck is refurbished to house many ice cream flavors, all made there on site, inviting locals and travelers to visit Isabella’s for the ‘charming aesthetic and the friendly service’. 

Isabella’s Ice Cream started out as an idea about 10 years ago, according to Kristel Johnson, the founder and owner of the parlor. The idea was sparked from seeing a “creepy” ice cream truck driving down their neighborhood street. And when Johnson wanted to bring a seemingly friendly and cute ice cream truck to the neighborhood and community instead of a scary and intimidating ice cream truck driving down the road the idea to open up shop started. 

Her idea became reality when her husband Dominic, pushed her to pursue her dreams and together they took all their savings and even some of their oldest daughter’s college funds and bought their 1925 Model T Ford truck. Because money was taken from their eldest daughter college fund, the business was named Isabella’s, after her, according to Johnson.

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“The whole concept was using the beauty of the past with the technology of today,” Johnson said. 

To refurbish the truck and build it so the Johnsons could serve ice cream right out of it, they used reclaimed wood from different high school and grade school basketball courts throughout southern Arizona to replace the deteriorating wood to refurbish the wooden body, chassis, and wheels of the truck. They refurbished several other trucks in the same way. 

“We actually have some wood on the first truck that’s from [the] McKale [Memorial Center] when they replaced the floors there,” Johnson said. 

Another aspect of the refurbished trucks is that they are all very environmentally friendly. Re-done to be ran electrically, the trucks also house the ability to run the freezers and lighting systems by solar power.  

Alexander Peet
Isabella's Ice Cream shop houses a vintage car instead of a counter to serve ice cream on 4th Ave. in Tucson, Ariz.


Running the business as a food truck was booming. Johnson started to do catering due to the demand by customers wanting the ‘delicious homemade ice cream’. From there, the food truck was also doing orders for restaurants, markets and grocery stores.

Doing orders for big markets and grocery stores turned the ice cream food truck into a whole-sale business around the southern United States area including in Arizona, Nevada, Southern California and Hawaii in Safeway and Whole Foods grocery stores. 

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The business wasn’t working to its fullest capacity as a whole sale business and Johnson felt that the business was not where it needed to be.

“We didn’t really like it, we lost focus on what we were doing and how we started,” Johnson said. 

With having no intention of opening a ‘scoop’ shop, Johnson looked at an open space on 4th Avenue in Tucson and ‘fell in love with the space’, picturing her business really taking off in that empty building space. 

“It just felt right, and I’ve really been a believer of ‘If it just feels right do it’,” Johnson said.  “I love the 4th Avenue community, I love how eclectic it is down here, everyone really supports each other.”

Johnson and her husband produce their ‘unique flavors’ from scratch, making their own simple ice cream base in their shop every couple-days. Using all organic ingredients sourced locally to make her base and each flavor, Johnson is up to the challenge of making any flavor a customer requests, whether that be as gnarly as an asparagus flavored ice cream to a coconut ash ice cream, dark grey in color.

Employee Amrys Curl has been working at Isabella’s for about two months, landing a manager position and learning how to create the Isabella’s base and ice cream flavors is part of her job. Day to day duties of the ice cream shop are preparing the ice cream base, providing customers with excellent service, and scooping the ‘delectable ice cream flavors into delicious creations for customers and caterers,’ according to Johnson.

Having only been working at Isabella’s for a short amount of time, taking on a managing position is one that has been full of great learning experiences, according to Curl.  

“We have a really high-quality product. I never realized until I started working here how low-quality ice cream is at a lot of places,” Curl said. 

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Using all-natural creams and milk, pasteurizing their own base, and making each flavor from scratch, are some of the many staples that makes Isabella’s stands out against other ice cream shops. The quality of the ice cream turns out better and creates for a better customer experience, according to Curl. 

Isabella’s is also known for its 1925 truck that is placed right in the middle of the shop, making for a charming sight-see when customers walk by on the street of 4th Avenue. 

“Everybody has to walk in here and tell us how cute it is that we have the care in the store,” Curl said. “A lot of people that aren’t even getting ice cream will come in and ask to take pictures.” 

Being alumni’s of the University of Arizona and also hiring many students from UA, Johnson and her husband make students feel very welcome when coming into the shop. Students are a big part of the community that support Isabella’s Ice Cream shop and Johnson would not want it any other way. Many of her employees are current students or alumni like herself. 

Students from different schools around Tucson come into Isabella’s to do field trips and Isabella’s is always open to new ways to reach out to the community and giving back, according to Johnson. 

Isabella’s is a 4th Avenue staple, according to Johnson and is now expanding their business once again by opening up a brand-new location at the American Eats Company, located in downtown Tucson. 

Isabella’s will also be building a new, third shop location at the Mercado San Augustín Annex, which is currently under construction and will be opening soon.

Creating a site to see for 4th Avenue and the Tucson community to remember by their exciting and off-the-wall ice cream flavors and excellent customer service is what Isabella’s strives for, according to Johnson. Isabella’s attracts many people of all ages, students to travelers, to stop in for a ‘flavorful treat.’ 


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