Like most travel agencies, Gerling Travel and Gerling Sports Travel in Flagler Beach, Fla., got walloped by the pandemic. After dealing with the initial wave of cancellations and rebookings, owners Mark and Shayla Gerling contemplated what they would do next.
Should they sell the building where their travel businesses were located, cash out and start working from home?
“That just didn’t seem to settle,” Mark Gerling said.
Instead, they made what would turn out to be a very sweet investment, opening an ice cream shop, Surfside Shakes, in the building’s unused office space.
“We call it our Covid baby,” Gerling said. “It wasn’t what we planned to do, but we felt like we needed out-of-the-box thinking. What can we do to invest in ourselves versus putting money into something else?”
An ice cream shop seemed like a fairly safe business to open, Gerling said. Now, more than ever, everyone can use a sweet pick-me-up.
It’s unlike anything the Gerlings had been involved with previously.
Before setting up their travel businesses, Mark had been a sales manager for a resort property in Miami. Shayla’s background was in meetings and event planning.
In 2004, Mark had made some connections in the professional auto racing community, and he and Shayla saw a need and opportunity to provide the air, hotels and transportation to that sector.
Thus, Gerling Sports Travel was born. Shayla heads up the business, and it’s still the core of what the Gerlings do, having expanded to serve professional athletes from other sports, including football, basketball and hockey.
In 2008, Mark came on board to head up the complementary, luxe-focused Gerling Travel agency. During the recession, the Gerlings bought a commercial building in Flagler Beach, just a stone’s throw away from the shoreline.
When the pandemic hit, the Gerling team was reduced from eight to three, including Mark and Shayla. They’re on track to book around $240,000 in travel this month, the best since the pandemic hit.
But they also hope their new venture, Surfside Shakes, takes off.
The ice cream shop opened on Oct. 1. Fall marks the beginning of the slow season for ice cream shops, Mark said, but the opening date was intentional. The Gerlings hope to use the winter to get the business running smoothly and work out any kinks before the busy season arrives in the spring.
Mark hopes the business will bring in some $300,000 in revenue annually.
While it is located in the 2,200-square-foot building where the Gerlings’ travel offices are located, it has its own entrance, utilities and bathroom. Previously, the Gerlings had rented out the 400-square-foot space to other businesses.
The ice cream that Surfside Shakes sells comes from a husband-and-wife chef team in Georgia. Mark describes it as “the luxury level of ice cream,” in parallel to the focus of the Gerlings’ travel businesses.
“It has been so well-reviewed by everybody that comes through the door,” Mark said. “It’s very different than our competition.”
Mark’s favorite is the Cherry Flamingo, a soft-serve vanilla ice cream mixed with hot fudge and dark cherries. Shayla prefers the Sea Turtle: hot fudge, caramel and salted pecans mixed with soft-serve ice cream.