Business

Meet Bradenton’s hometown ice cream company. It’s making a name for itself lickity-split

Matt and Jessica Eastman started Lickity Splits Ice Cream in their garage in 2014.

Today, the Bradenton business supplies premium ice cream to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders at LECOM Park, and a growing number of restaurants and mom-and-pop stores.

After a lot of trial and error, including having staff at Manatee Memorial Hospital — where Jessica Eastman worked at the time — sample their first batches of ice cream, the couple began selling at street festivals.

“As our ice cream got better, they would ask for it more,” Matt Eastman said of hospital staff.

The couple’s first venture into the public with their ice cream was at a community garage sale, where they made $300.

Their first street festival was Festa Italiana in Ybor City in Tampa.

“All you could see was gelato and Italian ice vendors,” Eastman said.

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Making cotton candy, double fudge brownie, mint chocolate chip, and other flavor ice creams at the Lickity Splits plant on Thursday were, from left, Matt Eastman, Crystal Stephens, Kiana Vallor, Franky Mathews, and Brian Brown. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

In spite of that, Lickity Splits soon attracted a line several dozen customers deep. Among those was a member of the Lightning staff, who sampled the ice cream and approached the Eastmans with a possible business proposal.

“Let’s talk,” the official said.

Their first season supplying ice cream to the Lightning was 2017-2018.

The company now runs two shifts to produce 2 1/2-gallon tubs of ice cream and 5-ounce single-serving cups in 65 flavors at its plant off Lena Road in East Manatee.

Matt Eastman, who served as a Navy electronics technician from 1996-2003 and as a cable splicer after leaving the Navy, was looking to go out on his own with a business that was recession proof and made people happy.

“Jessica and I narrowed it down to sugar and alcohol, but our daughters were (young) and there was no way we were going to open a bar,” he said.

Then one day they were standing in an ice cream line at St. Armands Circle and listening to the customer in front of them talk about his love of mint chocolate chip.

After the customer finally placed his order, he learned there was no more mint chocolate chip.

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Chocolate chips are poured into the mint ice cream Thursday at the Lickity Splits plant. Several different flavors were being made and poured into 2 1/2 gallon tubs. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Without missing a beat or expressing any complaint, he responded, “OK, I’ll have butter pecan.”

That moment of happy ice cream acceptance was when the Eastmans knew what they wanted to do.

In 2017, Matt Eastman was accepted into the Penn State University Ice Cream College.

“That stepped up our game,” he said.

Lickity Splits stays busy with street festivals and supplying orders to professional sports teams, along with a growing number of local restaurants.

Lickity Splits also delivers to customers who live in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Customers can place an order on the Lickity Splits website. The company also has started shipping across the nation, with a four-quart minimum order.

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Crystal Stephens readies the chocolate chips for the mint ice cream Thursday at the Lickity Splits plant. Several different flavors were being made and poured into 2 1/2 gallon tubs. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

The company’s 65 flavors range from the ever-popular vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to salted caramel praline, lemon blueberry, strawberry cheesecake, toasted coconut and Superman.

Superman combines blue moon, lemon and tutti-frutti ice cream into one scoop and is popular with children.

“We flavor with natural flavors and locally sourced ingredients when we can,” Matt Eastman said.

Example: Lickity Splits buys locally grown strawberries and blueberries and makes preserve that is used in its ice creams.

“Everything is stepped up at Lickity Splits to make it a premium ice cream, including the butterfat,” Matt Eastman said.

By law, to be considered ice cream, it must have a butterfat content of 10 percent. The percentage at Lickity Splits is 16 percent.

“The higher the fat content, the creamier the ice cream,” Eastman said.

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Matt Eastman stands in his administrative office of the Lickity Splits cream plant on Lena Road. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Lickity Splits is a family enterprise with Jessica’s mother, Valerie Wolf, handling the books, and Jessica’s father, Jack Wolf, serving as a business consultant.

Matt’s mother, Delores Reed, oversees operations, and his father, Jeff Eastman, allows Matt to “bend his ear from time to time.”

The couple’s daughters, Abigail Pollard and Sophia Eastman, are listed as official taste-testers.

Mark Baum, Eastman’s mentor, serves as director of marketing.

“I think it is an amazing success story. It’s a very good business and a great product,” Baum said. “If customers do a taste test, we win.”

Piggy-backing on what Baum said, Eastman adds that the company set out to produce a brand that Bradenton would be proud of, in the same way that it is of Tropicana or Bealls.

When visitors arrive in the Bradenton area, he would like them to say, “Oh, this is Lickity Split country.”

For more information, visit lickitysplitsicecream.com.

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