A Kuwaiti businessman on winter vacation in Tucson happened upon Frost A Gelato Shoppe and went home with a new business venture.
Haitham Alghunaim said he will open the first Middle Eastern outpost of Frost in August. Over the next two years, he hopes to open four or five in all in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and elsewhere in the Middle East.
"We have an amazing opportunity. ... All those countries are places that people travel to from all over the world," said Jeffrey Kaiserman, who founded Frost A Gelato Shoppe with his partner and fellow UA grad Stephen Ochoa in 2005.
"We're not Starbucks or McDonald's. But our goal was, if you're going to do this, do this right," Kaiserman said.
The story of how Alghunaim came to be a Frost franchisee mirrors the stories of the people who have opened franchises over the past couple of years in Phoenix, Chicago and, coming in September, New Mexico.
One taste and they were hooked.
Alghunaim's taste came quite by accident on the last day of a five-day Tucson vacation in winter 2012.
"I always have a sweet tooth from chocolate to ice cream, and I've loved ice cream as a child," Alghunaim recalled during a phone call from London Thursday, heading back to Kuwait after spending the past week in Tucson. "I've traveled to Italy a lot, and I love gelato."
The Kuwaiti businessman stumbled on Frost during a visit to La Encantada. He spotted the shop on his way to the Apple Store. He couldn't resist, even though he was leery of Americans trying to emulate the treat that is so quintessentially Italian.
"I had this misconception that things done in the States were inferior," he recalled.
One bite of the ice cream made by Frost's Italian gelato master Nazario Melchiondia and "my love affair started," he said.
Alghunaim and Frost have been negotiating the details of the franchise for several months. Last November, Kaiserman and Ochoa traveled to Kuwait to scout locations, and the deal came together in the last couple of weeks.
Ochoa said he could not comment on the terms of the franchise deal.
Alghunaim spent this week in Tucson training with Melchiondia and the Frost crew. Before his shop opens in Kuwait, Melchiondia, Kaiserman and Ochoa will fly there to train Alghunaim's staff. Kaiserman said the goal is to re-create his and Ochoa's first gelato experience in Italy.
Alghunaim said Kuwait City has a number of big-name international ice cream and frozen yogurt shops, including California's popular Pinkberry. There also are several Italian-imported gelato chains, but Alghunaim said, "They are not on par and they cannot compete with what Frost is going to give in Kuwait."
Alghunaim also has a franchise with Lebanon's upscale chocolatier Nougatini.
"I had this misconception that things done in the States were inferior."
• Frost has locations at La Encantada Mall, 2905 E. Skyline Drive; at 7131 N. Oracle Road at Ina Road; and at 7301 E. Tanque Verde Road..
• Details: www.frostgelato.com/tucson.html
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.