COOL AS ICE: Former engineer thrives as tropical ice franchisee
With all due respect to the person who operates Oscar Meyer’s Wienermobile, Canton resident Jeff Berryhill drives the coolest food-related company car in southeast Michigan — if not the world.
Tastefully decorated with every-color-in-the-rainbow graphics, Berryhill’s wheels transport his Kona Ice franchise’s portable tropical ice business to venues across metro Detroit.
When the vehicle isn’t turning heads and generating smiles as he and his son Wilson (also a Kona Ice franchisee) navigate their growing fleet of cool-as-ice trucks across area roadways, they’re bringing unbridled joy to kids of all ages once the Berryhills set up shop and distribute their tasty multi-flavored ice.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed kids their cup of flavored ice and heard them say, ‘This is the best day ever!’,” said Berryhill. “It’s a very gratifying business because we’re making people happy.”
Leaving the 9-to-5 life behind
Berryhill’s current gig is about 180 degrees different than his previous one.
A graduate of Michigan State University, he worked as an engineer for Yazaki America for almost 24 years before deciding to take a frozen leap into a mountain of tropical ice in 2018.
“I was getting a little bored with my engineering job and I was traveling more than I would have liked, so I decided to look for a franchise to buy into,” Berryhill explained. “During my search, Kona Ice popped up and it looked interesting. The more I researched it, the more I loved it.”
Berryhill’s wife and the business’s co-owner, Jen, is a teacher at Plymouth’s Smith Elementary School.
Once he signed on with Kona, Berryhill attended a three-day new-franchisee training session in Florence, Kentucky.
“I learned everything from how to do maintenance on the truck to promoting the franchise on social media,” he said.
To be safe, Berryhill retained his engineering job for the first year of his franchise ownership.
“A lot of the (Kona) events we worked were on the weekends, so it was easier to juggle,” he said. “Things were going so well with the business, I ultimately went all in on it.”
Too many twenties
He has since learned real-life business lessons along the way, including at the very first youth sporting event at which he sold shaved ice.
“During the training, they told us how much change to have available, so we had a lot,” Berryhill reflected, chuckling. “Unfortunately, it seemed like everyone was paying with twenties. Within the first two hours, we ran out of change. Luckily, one of our employees was able to drive to a nearby store and bring back some change.
The Berryhills haven’t run out of change since, he quipped.
The family business is booming. Berryhill recently purchased a warehouse/office in Livonia and he and Wilson now operate four trucks, two kiosks and three mini carts that can be used for indoor events throughout the colder months.
Kona Ice franchisees are limited to the territory they can work, Berryhill said, adding his has been expanded recently to include parts of downtown Detroit.
“We work a lot of University of Michigan home football games, youth sporting events — you name it,” Berryhill said. “If it’s an event where people are thirsting for tropical ice, we can be there.”
The Berryhills have contributed thousands of dollars of proceeds to charitable causes — a gesture that is way beyond cool.
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