Rainbow Cone, a colorful Chicago original, looks to open in other states

Expanding as part of its partnership with the owners of Buona Beef, the ice cream shop is looking for franchisees in the Midwest and South.

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The iconic Rainbow Cone location at 9233 S. Western Ave.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Rainbow Cone, the five-flavored Beverly favorite that has expanded in the Chicago area, now aspires to locations in other states.

In a partnership with the family that owns the Buona Beef chain, Rainbow Cone is looking for franchisees to bring the colorful dessert to other states in the Midwest and the South.

It’s an outgrowth of the 2018 business combination of the Buonavolanto and Sapp families, third-generation owners in their respective food lines.

Buona Beef has expanded vigorously in the Chicago area, and its expertise in restaurant construction, staff training and other areas has allowed Rainbow Cone to reach more people via locations and food trucks, said Joe Buonavolanto III, vice president of franchise operations and sales. Some outlets are paired with a Buona Beef location.

“We just like each other,” he said of the two families. “Our values are very similar. We believe in quality, and we believe in service.”

Buonavolanto said while some joint Buona-Rainbow sites are possible in other states, the Rainbow franchising plan is independent of any expansion of the Italian beef chain. Buona is expected to roll out its own franchising proposal in a few weeks.

Operators who want to own a Rainbow franchise will need an upfront investment of $258,585 to $1.26 million, depending on the design, according to terms posted at rainbowconefranchise.com. Buonavolanto said the company is looking for operators with experience in franchise restaurants. It will consider markets with a high concentration of families and home ownership.

Asked about the challenge of maintaining standards in a franchise, Buonavolanto said, “It’s really no different than opening company-owned locations. You have to have people who share your passion and your commitment to the product.”

Franchisees can choose from design options ranging from kiosks to freestanding sites with or without a drive-through.

With an eye on areas popular with Chicago transplants, Rainbow Cone is targeting markets throughout the Midwest outside of Illinois, as well as Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Florida. Buonavolanto wouldn’t disclose the number of locations it plans to open or the timetable, but he said a couple sites in the Tampa Bay region could be finalized soon.

He said the chain regularly fields inquiries about expansion, which has led Rainbow Cone to grow beyond its signature pink location in Beverly at 9233 S. Western Ave. It now operates in Lombard, Darien, Lakemoor and Skokie, with a kiosk at Navy Pier and a fleet of trucks that visit sites such as the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium.

“So many people want that cone,” Buonavolanto said.

“Grandpa” Joe Sapp started Rainbow Cone in 1926, and granddaughter Lynn Sapp does the honors now. It’s famous for his piled-high combination of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnut), pistachio, and orange sherbet. It’s served sliced, not scooped.

Buonavolanto said Rainbow Cone will get new company-owned locations next year in the Orland Park, Flossmoor and Algonquin areas.

Buona Beef, with 26 locations, also plans more. Buonavolanto said five new sites will open in the next 18 months, including Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and Valparaiso, Indiana.

He said the chain pivoted its business during the pandemic to fill more takeout and delivery orders. Dine-in business has recovered but still isn’t where it was before the pandemic, Buonavolanto said.

“Some changes in dining habits are here to stay,” he said.

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