Emerging Brands

The custard craze fuels growth at Andy's Frozen Custard

The business of frozen custard is taking off. But the fast-growing Andy's believes that it has a lot more staying power than previous dessert booms.
Andy's sign
Andy's Frozen Custard is a walk up or drive-thru frozen dessert chain. / Photos by Reyna Estrada.

Is frozen custard at the center of the latest dessert fad?

Andy Kuntz, CEO of Andy’s Frozen Custard, doesn’t think so. He sees custard as more than just a trend. After all, the idea for Andy’s was sparked nearly 40 years ago, when Kuntz’s parents—John and Carol—visited a frozen custard shop in Milwaukee and were amazed at the excitement they saw around the concept.

It was in the middle of winter, there was snow on the ground and yet customers were lined up, ordering hot fudge sundaes, according to Kuntz.

“And not only seeing the lines of people, but when they tasted the product and realized what it was about, they were like, ‘Holy cow, this is unlike anything we’ve ever had,’” he said.

Kuntz’s father was in between jobs, and despite having no foodservice experience, his family decided to take the jump.

Now, the family business has 136 units scattered across 15 states, and about 75 of the stores are franchise owned.

The dessert industry is prone to periods when certain products, such as cupcakes or cookies, see skyrocketing demand, which typically falls off after a while. Frozen yogurt, for instance, saw a boom in the 2010s, but in recent years, many froyo concepts have seen sales and unit counts freefall.

However, Kuntz isn’t so worried about demand when it comes to frozen custard.

“It’s been an interesting three years with the pandemic, with all the labor issues, supply issues. And all of that. We’ve been very bullish that we want to continue to grow. I believe strongly that people are always going to eat frozen desserts,” he said.

And the pandemic, in terms of sales, was actually quite good for Andy’s. In 2020, the concept saw sales increase 17% and unit count rise 11%, compared to the year prior, according to Restaurant Business sister company Technomic.

“20-21, we were up over 30% for those two years. That time was good for us from a sales standpoint, it was very difficult operationally and, you know, the fear of the pandemic, and staffing and all that sort of stuff,” said Kuntz.

He noted that brand’s average unit volume (AUV) also increased during the pandemic.

So, how is Andy’s, which joins frozen-dessert concepts like Dairy Queen, Baskin-Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery and Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt on Technomic’s latest ranking of the Top 500 restaurant chains, standing out from the competition?

According to Kuntz, Andy’s is all about family.

A family business

Andy's Frozen Custard Andy's offers walk-up or drive-thu only. 

“I think of Andy’s as a very wholesome Americana, family-oriented brand that is a great place to escape for 30 minutes or more with your family and your dog,” Kuntz said.  “You go to Andy’s and sit on the curb or sit on the tailgate of your truck and enjoy a concrete on a summer night.”

One of his favorite memories of working in the stores was a day when a man stopped by to ask Andy’s to be a part of his engagement. He wanted Kuntz to hide the engagement ring in a turtle sundae. 

“And so, they come up, he gives me the wink wink, and they ordered the turtle, and we buried the ring in the turtle,” he said. “They were with their family; they all went there to eat Andy’s that night.”

And family is a key part of the concept’s origins. At the very beginning, John and Carol owned two Andy’s locations—they ran one while Kuntz and his now wife, Dana, ran the other, and at the end of the week, they would switch locations. Their family put countless hours into building up the business.

“It was very hard work. The challenge was just, it was a lot of work and a lot of hours. Failure was not an option. If we failed, it was not gonna be a good deal,” said Kuntz.

“We love the product, we’re here for the long haul. We’re not a concept that looking to build up and sell it or something like that. This is something my kids love to do. My son currently works in the stores,” he said. “It’s what we do, it’s really the only career I’ve ever had.”

Despite the brand’s growth since, Kuntz still thinks of Andy’s as a family business, noting that “for a lot of people, it’s a home away from home.”

And that mindset has shown results. According to Kuntz, Andy’s currently has the highest volume and the largest number of stores among concepts that solely serve frozen custard.

“We didn’t get there by just having a lot of money that we could throw at something. It was really a lifelong—we’ve been at this for 37 years now,” he said.

From the machine to the menu

Andy's frozen custard machine. Andy's frozen custard machines. 

Another aspect that sets Andy’s apart from similar concepts is the machines that they use.

“I think our quality is different. We have two manufacturers that custom-make our machines for us to our specs. It takes 6-8 weeks to build a machine. That level of dedication there is really entirely different. There’s nobody who uses our machine or is doing anything like that,” he said.

The machines are also expensive. Kuntz noted that they cost around 75k each, and there are two machines in every store: one for chocolate custard and one for vanilla.

At Andy’s, custard is served within one hour of when it’s made and everything on the menu is made from a base of vanilla or chocolate. Simplicity, Kuntz noted, is key. While Andy’s started off with a limited food menu, that changed when Kuntz said his family noticed that most of the concept’s sales were coming from the custard.

“There’s old saying, do one thing great or a lot of things so-so, you know. We chose to do one thing and do it very well. And we’re very focused on the product,” Kuntz said.

On offer at Andy’s are traditional treats such as sundaes, shakes and malts, as well as concretes, a blend of frozen custard and a customer’s choice of toppings. One popular concrete is the Boot Daddy: vanilla or chocolate custard blended with Oreos, caramel and hot fudge. Another unique option is a Jackhammer, a concrete with a hole that’s filled with caramel or hot fudge. The James Brownie Funky Jackhammer, for example, is frozen custard blended with peanut butter and brownies, then filled with hot fudge.

Andy's Frozen Custard offerings.

Three of Andy's menu offerings. 

Kuntz says Andy’s is looking forward to “controlled growth.” The goal for this year is to open around 25 new stores by the start of 2024. Andy’s is halfway to that goal so far, with around 12 new openings this year.

“I feel like in the last six months, I feel like things have changed a little bit. I would say for the better for the most part for us. It’s still an uncertain world, but I do feel like it has leveled out and we don’t see that as such a fear as it was maybe a year ago,” said Kuntz.

 

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