Just stepping into the place brings you back. Even if you didn't grow up, or were even born, in the 1920s, Isabella's Ice Cream shop exudes vintage beauty in all its glory.
The walls are hued in muted pastel stripes of bright berry, cocoa and minty treats savored and enjoyed from moments past as the scents of freshly baked confections drift among turn of the century chandeliers shimmering above. With the addition of a classic Model T delivery wagon acting as the order window, time travelling back to a simpler time manifests with ease.
And that is exactly what owners Kristal and Dominic Johnson want you to feel when you enter their new shop on 4th Avenue.
For years, the husband and wife team have produced sweet and delectable ice cream from a tiny workspace in an industrial location on 17th Street, selling their wares from fully renovated vintage trucks, online, in local and regional stores and various restaurants across the Southwest. From the success of their business they were able to buy the prime spot in the historic Tophoy Building, which adds to the vintage feel of the space, and gives Tucson a real, and rather charming, ice cream parlor.
"We are totally open for business but we are also still in the process of moving all of the equipment from the old space," said Kristal. "This move was a perfect fit for us. The aesthetic of the building, the fantastic location and the fact that we could move our creamery to the back of the building. We are doing everything fresh here on site, from pasteurizing and churning the ice cream to baking cookies from scratch and making fresh waffle cones."
She pointed to the early 19th century soda shop tables and chairs set up near the entrance that are richly ornate and reminiscent of a bygone era.
"Can you believe it? I found these online from a dealer and he sold it to us for a steal. They just add that old timey feel to the space," she said.
Famous for their ice cream flavors such as lavender vanilla, salted caramel pecan and spicy chocolate, Isabella's are now able to expand on their tasty empire by including new offerings outside of just frozen scoops of wonder. They now serve up a variety of chocolate bon bons, hand-spun milkshakes, ice cream cookie sandwiches and, yes, ice cream tacos.
"The ice cream tacos are awesome," Kristal said. "It's our handmade waffle cone, shaped into a taco shell, filled with our vanilla ice cream then dipped in rich Belgian chocolate and finished with colorful sprinkles. We've been wanting to do these for so long but never had the chance or space to do so. But now we can."
Kristal and Dominic, a former Olympic pole vaulter, met at the UA through a mutual friend when they began dating their senior year. After marrying and having two daughters, they moved into a planned community. The idea to start their own ice cream company came when a questionable ice cream van skulked through their neighborhood. Or as Kristal liked to describe it as: "Creepy ... you know the type." So, taking the name after one of their daughters, Isabella's was born.
They purchased some Model T trucks, just like the one in their new foyer, fixed them up to be 100 percent electric, developed ice cream recipes and flavor concepts, then began selling their goods in the most 'non-creepy' way possible around town—open, friendly and full of small-town hospitality. Soon after they started packaging their ice cream that took off faster then they anticipated. Still in the early stages of making the transition from small industrial space to a larger work environment equipped with a store front, Isabella's is up and running even though they still have a lot of work still to do.
"We now make vegan sorbet popsicles and serve crafted espresso and coffee drinks as well," Kristal said. "Plus, we are able to deliver ice cream right to your home if you order online. It's a lot of work, but we know it will pay off in the end. We are open late which people seem to love. This is our passion and we just want Tucson to share that passion with us."