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Sips marks one year on Longboat with gelato shop expansion

The outdoor patio space doubled in size after Sips began leasing its second space.
The outdoor patio space doubled in size after Sips began leasing its second space.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer
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The first year of a business can be make or break. For Sips, celebrating one year on Longboat Key also means a new business expansion: gelato. 

Owners Justina and Chris Carter opened Sips in March 2023, focused on coffee, juices and smoothies — hence the name, Sips. But months of behind-the-scenes planning has brought them to where they are ready for their new gelato shop in the space next to the coffee shop in Whitney Beach Plaza. 

The couple is aiming for March 1 to be the soft opening of their gelato shop expansion. Also on that day, they are planning to throw a special event at Sips all day long, potentially including giveaways. 

Construction of the space was nearing completion days before March 1. All that was left was to put on a couple finishing touches and get the gelato in the display coolers.

The gelato will most likely be from a local wholesale distributor, the Carters said. Their goal is to transition into making their own gelato on-site in the near future.

There are 13 spots in the display cooler for gelato, which means there could be up to 13 different flavors. Justina Carter said there might be two tubs of a popular flavor, and there will be dairy-free options. 

Sips is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. But when the new spot opens up, they plan to open that side around noon and remain open until around 9 p.m., or somewhere in that time range. 

After Sips closes, customers will still be able to order coffee and desserts in the gelato shop. But as for lunch items like sandwiches, those won't be served after 2 p.m. 

The Carters are also thinking about only opening the gelato side Thursdays through Sundays at the start. There's some figuring out to do in the beginning, they said. 

Getting creative  

Around August 2023, the Carters decided to start renting the adjacent space to the coffee shop that would become the gelato shop.

At first, they were using it for storage, after running out of space in their coffee shop. 

Justina Carter recalled a time before renting the space for storage. There were days where they would run out of something like milk or paper towels, and one of them would have to run across the street to Justina’s parents business, Performance Pilates. That used to be their secondary storage. 

Sips' new gelato expansion is close to opening.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer

Even when they started leasing the storage space, though, the two were thinking about what it could be used for. Gelato was one of the early ideas.

“We wanted something that would compliment coffee,” Justina Carter said. “Gelato goes hand-in-hand with coffee, and since it is like the same business, you can still have coffee with gelato. And we feel like gelato has a richer flavor than ice cream.” 

In September 2023, Justina and Chris took a trip to Italy. Justina’s brother, Lorenzo Condensa, kept the coffee shop open while the two enjoyed their trip. 

On the trip, Justina Carter said the two enjoyed a lot of gelato. Sometimes twice a day. 

That solidified their idea for gelato. 

Back on Longboat Key, Justina and Chris worked to create their vision for the gelato shop. At the same time, they were expanding Sips’ food menu to include new items, like eggs and chicken salad sandwiches. 

One of the most challenging aspects, Justina said, was to figure out how to take a small space and turn it into a place where they could serve many customers at a time. 

That’s why expanding their outdoor space was one of the most crucial parts of the expansion.

Sips always had an outdoor patio space, but a wall previously separated the Sips backyard from the adjacent unit. But now that the Carters also have the lease on the adjacent space, they decided to take the outdoor wall down. 

Now the patio is double the size, with more tables and chairs. 

The idea is that customers can walk through the front door of the gelato shop, immediately walk to the display cooler to pick out their gelato and then walk through the line and out the back door after paying. 

There’s a couple tables inside, but the outdoor patio space is what the Carters are hoping really brings the spaces together. 

Condensa is looking forward to the creative potential for an outdoor space like this, maybe implementing some events in the future. 

The whole family is looking forward to the expansion and sharing the experience with their loyal Longboat customers. 

“It’s just an exciting adventure,” Chris Carter said. “We’re celebrating the people that supported us. Everyone helped us out, they wanted to see us succeed. We’ve had a lot of returning customers. Without the community, we wouldn’t be here.”



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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