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Top 10 Ice Cream Franchises: AUV, Cost & Stats (2023)

If you’re considering getting into the ice cream industry, buying a franchise can be a great option. Yet, which franchise should you choose? There are a number of ice cream franchises you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons.

In this article we are giving you our top 9 picks of the best ice cream franchises in the US.

For each we’re giving you the key financials: the average initial investment cost and Average Unit Volume (AUV). Also, if you want to dig deeper, you’ll find the links to our complete review for each franchise below.

FranchiseUS franchised unitsInvestmentAUVNet worthLiquid capital
Dairy Queen4,337$1,404,000$1,143,000750,000400,000
Cold Stone Creamery889$311,000$418,000250,000100,000
Rita's Ice534$216,000$248,000300,000100,000
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers391$1,453,000$1,793,0001,000,000400,000
Marble Slab Creamery253$407,000$251,000250,000100,000
Bruster’s Real Ice Cream180$664,000$467,000375,000150,000
Bahama Buck's102$631,000$520,000950,000100,000

Dairy Queen

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Dairy Queen is a leading American chain of soft-serve ice cream and fast food restaurants.

It serves soft-serve ice cream as well as burgers, chicken strips, sandwiches, and fries. On its rich menu are also dessert treats, such as the Dilly Bar and Buster Bar, a variety of ice cream sundaes, and the world-famous Blizzard, a yummy mix of ice cream shakes with candy chunks.

John Fermont McCulloughs and his son Alex founded Dairy Queen in 1940. And the first Dairy Queen restaurant was opened in Joliet, Illinois.

Its franchising journey started in 1944 under the ownership of the parent company, International Dairy Queen Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. As of today, Dairy Queen has over 6,800 stores in the US, Canada, and 20 other countries.

Baskin Robbins

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Baskin Robbins is a leading American multinational chain specializing in ice cream and cake shops. Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins founded Baskin Robbins in 1945, with its first location in Glendale, California. 

Best known for its slogan “31 flavors,” the company has more than 1,400 flavors of ice cream and has introduced vegan and non-dairy flavors.

It started franchising in 1950 and it is owned by Inspire Brands, based in Canton, Massachusetts. Today, Baskin Robbins is the largest ice cream specialty chain worldwide, with over 8,000 locations of which 2,500 in the US.

Cold Stone Creamery

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Cold Stone Creamery is a leading American chain of ice cream parlors.

Headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, the chain was founded in 1988 by Donald and Susan Sutherland.

The brand serves premium ice cream made-to-order at the restaurant. In addition, it offers ice cream-related products such as ice cream cakes, pies, cookie sandwiches, smoothies, shakes, and iced or blended coffee drinks.

Cold Stone Creamery began its franchising journey in 1994. It is operated and franchised by Kahala Brands.

Currently, the brand has more than 1,300 locations in the US and 20 other countries.


US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Culver’s is a leading American casual fast-food chain, primarily located in the Midwestern United States with 893 restaurants across 26 states in the US.

It was founded in 1984 by George, Ruth, Craig, and Lea Culver, and its first restaurant was in Sauk City, Wisconsin.

Culver’s serves mainly butter burgers and frozen custard and also offers cheese curds, chicken, fish, and salads.

Its franchising journey started in 1990, and its first franchise was located in Baraboo, WI. The Culver’s franchise is run by the privately held Culver’s Franchising System, LLC, which is based in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.

Rita’s Ice

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Rita’s Italian Ice is an American quick-service restaurant chain best known for its Italian ice, frozen custard, frozen treats, and specialty creations.

Headquartered in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the chain was founded in 1984 by Bob Tumolo, who named it after his wife, Rita Tumolo.

In addition to its menu, it also serves frozen desserts, frozen yogurt, ice cream, and milkshakes.vRita’s began franchising in 1989 and currently has more than 600 units in the US.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers is a leading fast-casual restaurant chain headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. 

Launched in 2002 by Scott Redler and two entrepreneurial brothers, Billy and Ray Simon, this restaurant chain is famed for its tasty steakburgers, frozen custards, French fries, milkshakes, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and soft drinks. 

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers began franchising in 2004 in Hutchinson, Kansas. 

As of 2023, Freddy’s Frozen Custard had 420 units in the US of which 391 franchised-owned.

Marble Slab Creamery

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Marble Slab Creamery is an American chain of ice cream shops owned by FAT Brands, which also owns Round Table PizzaGreat America Cookies, Pretzel Makers, and Hot Dog on a Stick and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

It was founded in 1983 in Houston by chefs Sigmund Penn and Tom LePage.

The brand serves homemade ice cream and a variety of other desserts, including ice cream cakes, sundaes, milkshakes, and smoothies. It began franchising in 1984 and now has over 370 restaurants in the US.

Bruster’s Real Ice Cream

Bruster’s Real Ice is an American ice cream parlor chain with more than 200 locations in 22 US states.

It primarily serves ice cream and frozen yogurt. In addition, offers handmade ice cream cakes, homemade waffle cones, milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits, and non-dairy ice cream flavors made with oat milk.

The chain was founded by Bruce Reed in 1989 in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania, where it is headquartered.

Its franchising journey started in 1993 and is franchised by the parent company, Bruster’s Limited Partnership.

Bahama Buck’s

US franchised unitsInvestmentAverage Unit Volume

Bahama Buck’s is an American privately held shaved ice franchise founded by Blake Buchanan in 1990.

Headquartered in Lubbock, Texas, the chain offers shaved ice, smoothies, frozen coffee, desserts, acai bowls, and specialty sodas called “Bahama Sodas,” as well as various Bahama Buck’s-themed clothing items.

Its franchising journey began in 1993, and it currently has more than 100 stores in the US.

Handel’s Ice Cream

Handel’s Ice Cream is an ice cream company based in Canfield, Ohio. In addition to homemade ice cream, Handel’s Ice Cream menu includes cones & dishes, pints & quarts, shakes, hurricanes, sundaes and Handel pops.

Handel’s Ice Cream was established in 1945  in Youngstown, Ohio by Alice Handel, using fresh fruit from her backyard garden and her recipes. 

Today, the brand is the home of more than 150 flavors of ice cream and has locations in more than 10 states across the US. The franchise offers its franchisees a variety of different store options, such as walk-up or walk-in store models, positioning itself competitively in the market.

The brand has also introduced catering services for special occasions in addition to selling ice cream and other desserts to provide partners with a more profitable concept. Handel’s Ice Cream began franchising in 1989 and by 2022 the brand had 85 locations, with 80 franchises in the US and 5 company-owned locations.

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