TAMPA —The four kids from Tampa had a bone to pick.
When the Chillura siblings — three brothers and a sister, ages 4 to 12 — visited their grandparents in Ohio, a highlight was getting rich scoops of ice cream from the beloved Graeter’s shop.
But back at home in South Tampa just north of Gandy Boulevard? Nada.
“Down in our neighborhood, we never had a real homemade ice cream shop,” said Max Chillura, now 27. So they agreed that when they grew up, they’d open one.
Fast-forward, and Chill Bros. scoop shops are popping up in Tampa’s splashiest locations. Chickens strut past the Chill Bros.’ doors on 7th Avenue in Ybor City. There’s a Chill Bros. at the fancy Epicurean Hotel in Hyde Park across from Bern’s Steak House, and another on South Tampa’s busy Bay to Bay Boulevard. The latest store opened in high-end, fast-developing Water Street at downtown’s eastern edge.
“We always said we needed that here,” said Hadley Chillura, 24 and the only Chill Sister. “And it actually came true, which is hilarious.”
And it’s not exactly old-school Baskin-Robbins.
The 16 choices include distinctly local flavors: Tampa Banana, Guava Pastelito, Cafe Con Leche Chunk. There’s also Chill Bro Brickle, Milk and Cookies and Sicilian Pistachio. Seasonal flavors include Fluffer Pumpkin and Malty Millionaire — malted vanilla ice cream, chocolate covered shortbread and a thick ribbon of salted caramel, “like a deconstructed Twix bar,” Max Chillura said.
Prices are $5.50 for a scoop (on a recent visit, an oversized portion you could hold in a baseball mitt), $8.25 for a shake and $10 pints. They sell vegan ice cream, too.
Max Chillura is the face of the place and runs the shops that serve their small-batch made-from-scratch product. Oldest brother Patton Chillura, 29, who’s in commercial real estate at a private equity firm, handles Chill Bros. real estate and construction. Hadley Chillura works full-time for O’Neill surf brand as a digital designer and social media manager, and also handles creative, marketing and photography for the ice cream business.
Nash Chillura, 21 and the youngest Chill Bro, is still in college studying communications at the University of Colorado. He worked for the contractor on the first shop in Ybor, and helped make the ice cream in the pandemic when it was hard to get help.
“The best job I’ve had so far,” he said. “Making ice cream was pretty awesome.”
Trendy scoop shops seem to dot the urban landscape lately, and not just in Tampa Bay. Ice cream is, excuse the expression, hot.
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Darren Tristano, CEO of the Chicago-based food and restaurant industry research and consulting firm FoodserviceResults, pointed to coffee as example: Parents drank Maxwell House and Folgers, which evolved into specialty premium coffees and beyond to nitro and cold brews — with consumers willing to pay $5 and up.
“The same thing is true for ice cream,” Tristano said. And given the stresses of the current world, “indulgence has become very important to consumers,” he said.
Home-grown is also trending: Younger buyers “are looking for local, they’re looking for brands they can believe in and get behind,” he said. “It’s just a nice emotional connection consumers can have.”
As for budding business owners, John Noble Masi with the faculty of culinary and industry consulting at Florida International University says there are “really low-cost barriers” to opening an ice cream shop. Equipment and labor are “both super low in comparison to other business ventures” such as opening a full-scale restaurant, he said.
When Max Chillura came home from the University of Florida, he was surprised to see craft beer and coffee but little ice cream. He wasn’t loving his real estate job, so he started putting together a business plan.
Financing the venture was possible with his own savings and a loan from his father, a banker, he said.
Then Max Chillura headed to Bologna, Italy, to learn the art of ice cream making.
“I think shops like us said, ‘What if we did it in a cool, old-style way?’” said Patton Chillura.
Each Chill Bros. shop has a vibe: The historic brick of Ybor, the cool blue hues at the Epicurean, the neighborhood feel of Bay to Bay, and the trendiness of Water Street, which features art by Slovak fine-art photographer Maria Svarbova.
The Chill Bros. at the Epicurean Hotel has a full-scale pastry kitchen where the mix-ins, cookies, candies and such are made under the eye of a formally-trained pastry chef. Ice cream is also made there in a Carpigiani machine from Italy.
The Chilluras considered a lot of names but kept coming back to the triple entendre of Chill Bros. — ice cream is chilly, the shops are designed to be laid back and chill, and Chill is in the family name.
So does the “Bros” part bother the one female sibling?
“I don’t mind it,” said Hadley Chillura. “I think it’s kind of funny.” They sometimes call her sis-bro, she said, and there’s talk of Chill Sis marketing and merchandise in the future.
For longtime Tampa residents, the Chillura name might ring a bell. Joe Chillura, former city councilman and county commissioner for whom the park outside the downtown courthouse is named, is their grandfather.
“They’re real entrepreneurs,” said Joe Chillura.
Chill Bros. has 52 employees and big plans in an area well known to the fourth generation Tampanians. They’re thinking maybe West Shore, Tampa Heights, Temple Terrace, St. Petersburg.
“It’s been a fun journey so far,” said Max Chillura. “And we’re just getting started.”