Ice cream shops, one in Texas and one in Belize, share the scoop on success

Hernan Urbina and woman standing by cash register (Courtesy of Ice Break)
Hernan Urbina serves a customer at his family's ice cream parlor, Ice Break. (Courtesy of Ice Break)

When Hernan Urbina was 5 years old and his mother bought him a bag of candy, he spotted an opportunity.

He sold the candy to his classmates at school, mimicking what he heard his father had done as a child. Hernan Urbina Sr. had grown up selling popsicles from a tricycle in little towns in Belize, the small Caribbean nation that borders Mexico and Guatemala.

“From a very young age, I was always selling,” the younger Urbina says. His mother tells him that she always knew he would grow up to be a businessman.

Now, the 29-year-old graduate of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative manages his family’s ice cream parlor in Orange Walk, Belize. Called Ice Break, the parlor has grown in its first decade to employ 10 workers. Its success can be partly attributed to the son’s salesmanship and the father’s ice cream flavors — everything from dragon fruit to hot Cheeto ice cream.

But Urbina also says his experience in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative helped him expand the business. The U.S. initiative brings entrepreneurs from Latin America to train with U.S. businesses. For his part, Urbina interned with Amy’s Ice Creams in Austin, Texas. Amy’s community focus fit well with Urbina’s vision of Ice Break as a gathering place for families of Orange Walk (population 13,000). The Texas chain’s efforts to keep employees up to speed on business operations taught Urbina to help his own employees feel they are part of his success.

“What I liked about Amy’s was the way they handled their staff,” Urbina says. Informing workers of the company’s income helps workers “feel satisfied knowing that they did their parts.”

Amy’s Ice Creams Marketing Director Aaron Clay says training employees in entrepreneurship has benefited both Amy’s and the community. When former “scoops” — Amy’s name for its servers — succeed at other companies, that reflects well on the business. And the shop’s focus on education leads many employees to stay longer, reducing the high-turnover common to the food-service industry.

“It’s a risk-reward scenario,” Clay says. “The risk of losing someone early by investing in them is outweighed by all the good you get back from the people who stay.”

Urbina agrees. When Ice Break employees show an interest in making pastries, Urbina signs them up for a class and begins selling their pastries. One of those employees graduated to running her own business from home and another moved on to work at a bakery. But their growth has been motivating to everyone.

Urbina also credits his Texas experience with boosting his social media and marketing savvy. Since 2016, Ice Break has expanded to selling ice cream to restaurants. And the family business has considered opening a second parlor or possibly a restaurant.

Clay credits Urbina with bringing outside perspective to Amy’s and says the two businesses have continued to share ideas by email long after Urbina completed his visit facilitated by the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.

“I’m very grateful for the program,” Urbina says. “It opened me up and helped me become more outspoken and reach out to people across Belize.”

Line of people posing by flag of Belize (Courtesy of Ice Break)
Hernan Urbina, right, celebrates Belize’s independence with Ice Break’s employees. Urbina’s family opened the ice cream parlor in 2009 and has doubled the staff. (Courtesy of Ice Break)