PARRISH -- Joe Rimer grew up in Florida, but he's no stranger to ice.
Drop by his Parrish-based business, Ice Pro, and you're likely to find him bundled up in a bulky winter jacket and heavy-duty work gloves.
The 49-year-old Bradenton native isn't overreacting to the cold snap; rather, he's working in his walk-in, zero-degree freezer, where he creates everything from ice statues to sculpted food displays to full-sized ice bars, complete with shot glasses made of ice and ice luges for pouring alcohol.
Rimer's work was featured last year on A&E's "Shipping Wars" and on the "Today" show, where he carved a bust of hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford out of a block of ice. He has participated in international competitions in Alaska as part of Team USA, once sculpting a 14-foot statue of Elvis.
Never miss a local story.
Ice Pro has created displays for the NCAA's "Frozen Four" ice hockey championships in Tampa, special events at the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton and a postgame Super Bowl party hosted by Pepsi and pop star Beyonce last year in New Orleans.
"It's nice to put on your bucket list that you got to see a Super Bowl," said Rimer. Well, he did have to miss the second and third quarters of the game
to set up the ice bar.
Rimer's tools of the trade include a chain saw and a computer-assisted drill machine for carving, and more than a dozen water tanks he and his employees use to create giant blocks of clear ice.
"The water, when it's coming out of here, is crystal, perfect clear," Rimer said as he stuck a finger into one of the ice-cold tanks full of water that's been through 10-micron filtration, 5-micron filtration, carbon filtration and chlorination to remove the white color that would otherwise spoil the final, frozen product.
He and his team make 50 to 60 blocks of ice -- most in the 300-pound range, but some of them custom-designed "monster blocks" weighing more than 500 pounds -- and they must be handled with care and kept at consistent temperatures to avoid "thermal shock" that could crack them down the center. The blocks are then chiseled into corporate logos or just about any shape his clients request. Colored sand and lights are sometimes added for dramatic effect.
Rimer, a graduate of Bayshore High and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, began dabbling in ice sculpting 20 years ago in Memphis, Tenn., where he was working as executive chef for a country club restaurant and creating ice displays for special events. He and his wife started an ice-carving business; as their reputation grew, they were hired to work for the 1996 Woody Harrelson movie, "The People vs. Larry Flynt," which was filming in the area. But, Rimer said, he "couldn't get ahold of decent blocks of ice."
As business boomed and more requests poured in, he and his wife relocated first to Orlando, then to Parrish, where they started Ice Pro, converting a barn on the Rimer family farm into the company's headquarters and production workspace. Rimer's dad, Fred, outfitted the barn with insulation, created specialty equipment to lift, transport and carve the giant blocks of ice and experimented with different water filtration methods.
"We're really creative here on how we've done stuff," said Fred Rimer.
Rimer's wife, Lianne, does the bulk of the computer design work necessary to create the intricate ice carvings. His cousin and two brothers also work at the Parrish facility on State Road 62. Another full-time employee, plus two part-timers, work out of a home office in Orlando, where Ice Pro does about 80 percent of its business, Rimer estimates.
Ice Pro creates "glass slipper" ice carvings for serving sorbet at princess-themed weddings at Disney World. The company also does the bulk of the work at Icebar in Orlando, billed as the largest permanent ice bar in the world.
On any given weekend, Rimer can be found transporting his work to Tampa, Orlando or South Florida in specially rigged coolers on flat-bed trailers for weddings, parties and corporate events. Last weekend, Ice Pro created a 45-foot ice bar that weighed nearly 5 tons for an event in Miami.
And that's nothing: A team from Ice Pro holds the Guinness World Record for longest ice bar, at 207 feet.
A standard ice bar goes for anywhere from $1,200 to $1,400, Rimer said. Ice sculptures are about $350.
"A lot of people say, 'It's just water,'" Rimer said. "They don't understand our utility bills." That's not to mention the labor, plus the fuel, which takes up to 17 percent of the company's costs, he said.
For customers who want something more economical for their event, Rimer is starting Ice Pro to Go, for smaller ice sculpture products such as ice bowls or clam shells, he can make in bulk and have ready to be picked up at Ice Pro's handful of partners. Those will go for less than $250, he said.
In the meantime, he and his employees have plenty of events to keep them busy.
"Everything revolves around Saturday night," he said.
More information can be found at iceprofl.com and at Facebook.com/icepro.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.