What does ice cream mean to people in the hospitality…
Father-and-son team keep it simple with their Philip R’s Frozen Desserts
Jill Lerner Journal Staff
WINCHESTER — Philip Rotondo and Philip Rotondo Jr. had one goal in mind when they founded their frozen-dessert company in 1996 — to make sorbet. Hence the original company name, Philip R’s Simply Sorbets.
Their catering customers were more ambitious on their behalf.
Soon after the father-and-son team debuted their product, clients clamored for ice cream, individual desserts and special orders.
Those requests — some as off-beat as blue cheese and green tea ice cream flavors — helped the Rotondos last year scoop up business-to-business sales of just under $1 million.
They employ 10 full-time workers and oversee 4,000 square feet of office and kitchen space in Winchester, as well as another 4,000 square feet of storage space in Medford. And the company’s name has since evolved to Philip R’s Frozen Desserts.
“We can call them up on a couple days’ notice, and they always come through,” said Mark Flemming, pastry chef for the Rockland-based Catered Affair, for whom Philip R’s has concocted specially requested ice cream flavors such as honey and nugget.
But it all started, simply, with sorbet.
After graduating from Merrimack College in 1993 with a degree in marketing, Philip Jr., now 31, tried his hand at a variety of jobs, including stints at a parcel-shipping company and a scuba-diving shop. None captured his imagination.
Then Philip Sr., now 53, a veteran of the food service industry who had worked in the family frozen-dessert business and later as a business consultant, tasted some bad sorbet at a function in 1996.
“It was lemon, and it tasted like straight lemon juice,” he recalled.
The Rotondos knew they could do better, and, since both had been looking for more fulfilling jobs, they decided to try.
They set up shop in cramped warehouse space in Woburn with $10,000 worth of used equipment and devised recipes on their own using fresh ingredients. Then Philip Jr. began cold-calling hotels and caterers.
Soon, the Rotondos landed a series of accounts, including one of its earliest, the Sheraton Boston hotel.
The chef there ordered 50 gallons of raspberry sorbet, sending the Rotondos — who had all of 5 gallons in stock but who had touted themselves as being able to deliver any order — into a round-the-clock frenzy.
During the next few months, they added a veritable who’s who of food- industry clients, including the Four Seasons and Boston Park Plaza hotels.
In short order, “the customers forced us into expanding the line,” said Philip Sr
And after slowly adding items, the Rotondos last year debuted an entire catalog of frozen treats.
Confections range in price from miniature sorbet hearts at about 65 cents apiece to white-chocolate swans at $3 apiece.
Other offerings include individual ice cream tortes, truffles, profiteroles and — among the most popular items — tiny, realistic-looking fruit-shaped sorbets.
The key to the line’s popularity, says Mark Polito, executive chef at the Progressive Gourmet, an Everett-based banquet foods distributor, is its gourmet quality.
“You need to find products people think you’re making yourself,” said Polito, whose company distributes the Philip R’s line.
The Rotondos design all of the items themselves, and wen t so far as to arrange the desserts themselves during the photo shoot for the catalog.
“I guess we’re a little bit on the creative side. We had kind of a vision of what we wanted the product to look like,” said Philip Jr.
While the Rotondos don’t anticipate selling their goods directly to consumers anytime soon, the business continues to grow.
Philip Jr., whom his father credits with running the company for the past three years, recently closed deals with Haagen-Dazs to market and distribute the line to the metro New York area, and has signed deals with New York hotels including the Marriott Marquis.
The company is now eyeing Orlando, Fla., and the Baltimore/Washington markets for the wealth of convention activity in those places.
But despite the warm, personal relationship between father and son, things weren’t always easy in business.
“There was a time … when it was difficult for me to hand the reins over,” said Philip Sr.
“Old guys are set in their ways, (and) I had in my mind a certain way to do things.”
In time, however, Philip Sr. says he learned to rephrase his sentences from “you should have” to “I would have” and to ease into the role of elder, experienced statesman.
Now, Philip Sr. says, “I’m the sounding board … `Dad, what do you think?’ “
“I think he’s doing terrific.”