When Brian Borst bought Love Boat Ice Cream in 2014, he did it without knowing anything about running an ice cream shop.
During the past eight years, learning on the job changed to growing it into Lee County’s burgeoning ice cream empire.
The newest Love Boat Ice Cream opened Friday in downtown Fort Myers at 1512 Hendry St.
“When I first came here, I did nothing but learn everything I could about ice cream,” said Borst, who had spent 10 years working as a healthcare information technology specialist in Grants Pass, Oregon. Prior to that, he had spent 10 years working in health systems management in suburban Chicago, and prior to that he had worked on F-16 fighter jets as an avionics specialist – not the typical background of an ice cream entrepreneur.
During his college years at Governor’s State University in Illinois, Borst managed a Domino’s Pizza store. The experience, he said, gave him a taste of the restaurant business and planted the seeds for his ice cream renaissance more than two decades later.
“I loved managing Domino’s when I was in school,” Borst said. Tuesdays were the slowest days of the week when Borst experimented and created his own pizzas. “Barbecue chicken pizza, Philly cheesesteak pizzas. We were creating those kinds of pizzas before they were ever made.”
Now, the innovations happen inside 16575 San Carlos Blvd., the flagship Love Boat Ice Cream location. It’s just about 500 yards south of the original one that opened in 1967 and is now scheduled for demolition soon. At one point, Borst was running the original location and the nearby store simultaneously.
“We outgrew this one the day we moved into it,” Borst said of the flagship store. “We never really knew we had the huge, loyal following that we had. We never realized the magnitude of it.”
There were lines out the door. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Borst adapted by creating a double drive-thru lane.
Borst began leasing the new store in 2017, deciding to rent rather than own real estate because it frees up the capital to expand his ice cream brand.
Borst told Gulfshore Business he had just received the Franchise Disclosure Document from the state government, allowing him to expand and franchise the business across the state should he choose.
The expansion has been ongoing since 2015 when a Sanibel Island location opened next to Jerry’s grocery store.
In March 2020, the first Fort Myers location opened at the Village Walk shopping center at 7977 Dani Drive.
In early 2023, Cape Coral will get its first Love Boat at a shopping center nearing completion at the northwest corner of Pine Island Road and Del Prado Boulevard.
The slower months of August and September in Southwest Florida give Borst and his team of about 60 employees, about 15 of which are full-time, an opportunity to experiment with developing new flavors. There are up to 80 flavors at any given time, including Oatmeal Cream Pie, a childhood snack that evolved into one of the more unique flavors.
All Love Boat Ice Cream is made at the San Carlos Boulevard location, where the soft, small batches are first placed into a hard freezer of 25 to 30 degrees below zero. After the ice cream hardens in two-gallon tubs, it gets transferred to the various on-site freezers at zero to 8 degrees, where it’s ready to be scooped.
On Tuesday, Borst’s team had finished making 90 gallons of vanilla and moved on to making its tri-colored “Superman” ice cream, red, yellow and blue.
Hurricane Ian put a significant dent into Borst’s business. The air conditioning unit on the Sanibel location’s roof collapsed, filling the store with water. He hopes to reopen there some time by the end of next year.
The flagship store flooded with four inches of water, and the downtown Fort Myers location opened two months behind schedule. The new Cape Coral store’s opening has been delayed several months because of permitting issues.
“There’s always been bumps in the road and things that have distracted from the forward progress,” Borst said. “But that forward progress has always been there. The idea of being able to take what has been created here over the last 50-plus years and expand it and share it with more of the community was something I always wanted to do.”
If Love Boat continues to expand through franchising, Borst said he would defy the franchise experts and maintain a hold of the quality control. He doesn’t want franchisees to start cutting corners on the costs and quality of the Love Boat Ice Cream.
“I want to be different than everybody else,” Borst said.