Putting a New Jewish Spin on an East Coast Classic

After years of traveling around the country for work, New York natives Angela and Adam Ailloni decided it was time to travel less and go into business for themselves — and it’s the perfect spot for summer. The two purchased the rights to Rita’s Italian Ice franchises in Minnesota.

Prior to owning Rita’s, both Angela and Adam held more corporate positions, working for companies including Best Buy, Target and Nestle. However, their entrepreneurial backgrounds mixed with a desire for more stability led them to take a risk and take on the franchise.

“People say ‘You went into the restaurant business, that’s crazy. There’s such a high risk of failure,’ and so forth,” Angela said. “But we wanted to do this passion brand where we love the product so much and wanted to introduce it to Minnesotans because we also thought it was a great fit for the foodie culture.”

One of the many locations so far in Minnesota, Rita's in Bloomington just opened up last month.

One of the locations so far in Minnesota, Rita’s in Bloomington, just opened up last month.

The couple owns locations in Eagan and Valleyfair which serve Italian ice, frozen custard, tons of other frozen treats. Additionally, their Bloomington location is one of five test stores in the country to serve donuts, and the only one in the country with kosher donuts.

Coming from a combination of Jewish, Romanian, Dutch, Scottish and Italian backgrounds, the couple wanted to open a space to bring all different types of people together.

“The intersection of Italian and Jewish, for us, was a lot of similar things,” Adam said. “You know, it’s all about family, it’s all about getting together, a lot of pride, and the idea of doing this kind of a shop is it brings families together around something happy and enjoyable, and again, that idea of something generational where one day we hope you come back here with your kids.”

Honing in on their own Jewish roots and embracing the Jewish community in the Twin Cities, Angela and Adam decided to keep both of their Eagan and Bloomington locations kosher certified through mspkosher.org.

“It was important for us to be kosher because we wanted to be able to serve the community that we’re both a part of, and has also shown us support for moving here,” Angela said.

Keeping kosher also aligned with the couple’s values of inclusivity and making sure to cater to people who do choose to follow the traditional Jewish guidelines.

“I think kosher is a quality stamp in my opinion,” Adam said. “It says something about what your product is and it’s just another way of putting another piece in place for people who maybe keep kosher or don’t, but they know that we’re being supervised by someone to maintain a certain quality and standard.”

While choosing to keep kosher does limit some of the products that the locations are able to offer, the couple said it was worth it to them to keep in line with their values as business owners.

“Not that we’ve received any real complaints about it, but there are some trade-offs,” Adam said. “What I would say is that when you’re doing a business, you do it because you’re passionate about it, and we feel like it’s the right thing.”

Another infusion of Judaism into their business model that drew the couple to Rita’s in the first place was the brand’s emphasis on giving back to others, or “Tzedakah” in a sense.

Paper lemons line the walls of the Rita's location in Eagan throughout last July, as part of the fundraising efforts for Alex's Lemonade Stand. Photo used with permission from Angela and Adam Aillqni.

Paper lemons line the walls of the Rita’s location in Eagan throughout last July, part of the fundraising efforts for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Photo used with permission from Angela and Adam Ailloni.

On a national level, Rita’s has partnered with the childhood cancer charity Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, raising over $4 million dollars over the past 10 years during the month of July to raise money for cancer research and travel funds for kids that need to travel as part of their treatment.

Within their own stores, the Aillonis’ have chosen to partner with other more local groups including the American Refugee Committee to fundraise for places that need support in their refugee communities.

In addition to staying true to the Jewish community and Jewish values, the couples stores in Eagan and Bloomington both proudly display transgender bathroom signs to create a comfortable atmosphere for members of the community as well.

One of the transgender bathroom signs that are featured in the Bloomington and Eagan Rita's locations.

One of the transgender bathroom signs that are featured in the Bloomington and Eagan Rita’s locations.

“When you have power over your own business, and you don’t always have that in every aspect of life, you get to choose to do things that match your values,” Angela said. “So choosing kosher was one of the things that we chose, and then of course making the choice of having the bathroom sign. It’s to raise awareness, to start a conversation and it’s to show support.”

The Alex’s Lemonade Stand fundraiser is going on now through July 27th. For those interested in making a donation, stop into any Rita’s location to show your support.