When John Smotryski packed up for Key West a last-minute change propelled him into an entirely different opportunity: ice cream. In 2018, he joined the ranks of sweet scooping brands at a time when local offerings boomed.
A few seasons later, and amidst a continuously changing tourism landscape, Wicked Lick has survived the latest set of shifts and remains as one of the trending dessert destinations on Duval.
In the following excerpts, the franchise founder discusses going from one world of building to another and his flavor picks for all your island activities.
A casual Florida foodie: I didn’t know how good food could taste until I moved to South Florida. Prior to that, living in Bradenton and Sarasota my entire life, going out to eat was casual dining: Applebee’s and the local café. Moving to South Florida opened up a whole new world for me as I began to experience the flavors of fine cuisine. I lived in Coconut Grove before moving here and great food was everywhere much like Key West.
Building a path to the Keys: I started out as a carpenter, framing and trimming homes. After a few years, I decided to get my contractor’s license and start a commercial construction business. My last position before moving here was in Miami as director of project management of South Florida for CBRE, overseeing a dozen project managers and selling construction management consulting. My largest project with them was for Royal Caribbean HQ in Miami — over a million dollars in consulting. After 32 years, I had enough of the corporate BS and started looking for a business to buy in Key West. Amanda, my wife, is an immigration attorney and she always wanted to have an office in the Keys because a lot of her clients lived here. So, it was an easy decision.
We all scream for ice cream: When we were deciding if another ice cream business was going to work here, I researched every ice cream [spot] in Key West. There were at the time 19 of them. Most were shops that also served pizza, candy and Key lime pie. Within four months of opening Wicked Lick, four other ice cream shops opened: Ben & Jerry’s and Tropical Vibes being two. With such saturation, we knew we had to stand out. We had to be different and better. Our location was great, right on Duval on the 300 block, and was a former ice cream parlor, Boardwalk Custard. Most of the equipment was already there, so it was a quick start. There is also a parking lot in the back for our customers, something no one has on Duval. Locals have no excuse not to come downtown for an ice cream sundae.
Innovating with hybrid liquid nitrogen: We used to make each serving to order. Now we make it in small batches. This cut our staffing 30%, reduced the amount of liquid nitrogen by nearly half, and saved a bunch of time serving customers. It was a big win for us and incidentally we became the first ever hybrid liquid nitrogen ice cream shop. Our customers still get to experience the making of ice cream with the liquid nitrogen because we replenish each bowl multiple times a day. We also revamped our merchandise adding a retail area, selling our very desired T-shirts sporting the slogan “If You Don’t Lick It…Someone Else Will.” People love it.
Cookie butter caramel: We flipped the script with this one. We put the caramel in the ice cream and created a sauce with Biscoff cookie butter. Everyone mistakes it for caramel but it’s cookie butter and it’s so delicious. It pairs nicely with all our ice cream.
Cold brew concoction: Amanda and I love coffee, so we tried cold brewing and we got a very concentrated, less acidic coffee that makes an amazing ice cream. I don’t know why anyone would use an artificial coffee flavor when it’s so easy to make a great coffee ice cream from scratch. Plus, it will wake you up.
A peanut butter and jelly favorite: One of our employees came up with our Peanut Butter & Jelly. It’s our real peanut butter, real cream and cane sugar ice cream with a puree of mixed berries over the top. This one is my favorite and I love to eat it with our waffle chips. What are waffle chips? Well, instead of rolling the home-made waffle into a cone, we cut it like a pie into eight pieces and turn your ice cream into ice cream nachos.
Best hangover cure? Cold Brewed Cuban Coffee Ice Cream gives your body much-needed carbs and proteins with a boost of caffeine. The cold brewed process delivers a stronger and less acidic coffee taste without any stomach discomfort.
Best night out pregame? Mint chocolate chip has diced Andes Mints, so get close to the one you love.
Best for people watching on Duval? Even with so many delicious flavors to choose from, our Ghirardelli Chocolate is my comfort favorite to sit on the patio and watch the travelers from all over the world stroll by.
Best for navigating a crowded sunset? Got to go with a cone of roasted pistachio in the right hand while left hand defends your space. Perfect dessert to ruin your dinner. ¦
— Wicked Lick, 335 Duval St., Key West. Info: WickedLick.com