Joe Lillis '92 at his ice manufacturing facility
in Rhode Island.
by Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley ’05
“With the advent of refrigeration, ice is a product we seldom need but cannot live without,” says Joe Lillis ’92, president of Cape Cod Ice. “Ice has become a luxury product, and I’m an ice snob, no doubt.”
Inspired by his own palette, Lillis founded On the Rocks, which makes designer ice from natural spring water for upscale bars, restaurants and natural food stores.
“We produce specialty ice for quality-conscious consumers,” says Lillis. “Our ice doesn’t affect the quality of the beverages it chills, and the large size cube and harder consistency allows the ice to melt more slowly so it won’t dilute your drink.”
Lillis brings this passion for high-quality ice to the mainstream commodity ice market as well. His Cape Cod Ice brand has a proprietary process that keeps water moving continuously as it freezes resulting in a cleaner, harder ice with fewer impurities.
“We make a product that people can make at home for free, so we have to do it better. We test our water quality more frequently than the city checks the tap,” he says.
In fact, unlike many other ice manufacturers, Cape Cod Ice produces only food-grade ice. As the former chair of the International Packaged Ice Association, Lillis has lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to implement a series of ice-quality guidelines, similar to those for bottled water.
Clean, food-grade ice is especially important to Lillis because he’s been known to move mountains of ice during natural disasters and other emergency situations. Cape Cod Ice sent more than 100 trailers of ice to New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
“Ice is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we don’t think about it until we don’t have it,” says Lillis. “When there’s an emergency or when there’s no power, that’s when we realize how central it is.”
At peak production, Cape Cod Ice is capable of manufacturing more than one million pounds of the cold stuff each day and produces more than a dozen different types, from cubes to giant blocks for ice sculptures. They also maintain thousands of ice freezers and serve as public cold storage.
Lillis, who learned the family business from the ground up as an ice bagger and delivery truck driver, knows the ice business, sure, but does he have a favorite shape? You bet. Called Vogt large tube ice, it’s cylindrical and has a hole down the center. And if he could pour absolutely anything over those frosty little tubes?
“Corona with a bunch of limes,” he says. “And some salt on the rim, please.”