In 1963, at the age of six months, she was on a boat that helped her family flee Communist-invaded Cuba to Florida. Almost 60 years later, she opened her last business.
Best Ice Cream opened at 1401 Lee St. in downtown Fort Myers. Later in September and next door will be The Mermaid Room, which will be for adults only 21 and over. This space will contain ice cream infused with liquor, CBD and Delta 8, which is a close but legal relative of marijuana. The Mermaid Room will have a $10 cover charge.
For now, Best Ice Cream is serving its unique brand of nitrogen-infused, made-to-order ice cream at its brand new location.
“What makes it the best ice cream is that we make everything from scratch here,” Perez said. “We make the base. It’s done here every day, multiple times a day.
“We freeze it with liquid nitrogen. What this does is it prevents getting ice crystals. So it’s pure, delicious and creamy. Nitrogen is minus 321 degrees. It freezes almost instantly.
Best Ice Cream’s first location will remain open at 2215 Winkler Ave., Ste. K, in Fort Myers. Its former location at Dani Drive near Six Mile Cypress Parkway, closed in 2020. But before it closed, Perez had a chance meeting with Herb and Mitzi Katz. They were vacationing in Illinois, where Herb Katz is a longtime mall developer. They were looking for fresh, vegan ice cream for their daughter, and Perez accommodated them.
Herb Katz paid $725,000 for the building at the corner of Lee Street and Bay Street. There was a lawyer’s office inside, but Katz was looking to do something different. Decades before, he had visited his grandfather in Fort Myers. He wanted to create something iconic.
That’s when Katz and Perez began planning their dream ice cream shop.
“I love them,” Perez said of Herb and Mitzi Katz. “When I say I love them, I mean I love them like family. They are like family to me.
More than a year ago, Perez painted the exterior of the Lee Street building pink and blue with cloud bubbles. Herb Katz also gave him plenty of time to paint the interior to his liking. She installed black lights and used fluorescent paints. Plastic bubbles hang from the ceiling and original artwork adorns the walls. Especially at night, it creates the aura of being “under the sea”.
Perez said she hopes her customers enjoy the vibe rather than just pick up and go.
“It’s something that’s really, really spiritual,” she said. “When you get the chance to paint something with your heart, it becomes something very unique and different. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want too much just to be ordinary.
Perez also partners with three female business owners and sells their products from the ice cream shop: candles, bracelets and a brand of party invitations.
“I also love empowering women,” Perez said. “There are three women I empower here at the store with different things, different products. I like this. This gives them the chance to show, market and sell their products.
Ice cream sundaes start at $8 and $9. She also makes “dream bowls” to share starting at $15. The ice cream menu is just a guide, Perez said, as available creators can accommodate requests.
Herb Katz said he and his wife are happy to help Perez reinvigorate his brand.
“It’s a monumental task,” said Herb Katz. “Ali’s artistic skills are at a very high level. We knew there was something special there. We wanted her to take her time and without pressure. We wanted her to go crazy. We felt like there could be nothing like it for her and her business.
Herb Katz plans to visit the ice cream shop in October and expects the wait to be worth it.
“You make investments,” he said. “Sometimes the train is not on time. But when it does, it can be really special. We feel benevolent and not dictatorial. We wanted her to catch the free spirit. And this company would be so much above other companies of the same kind.
“We think it’s going to end up being iconic. Just because of the artistry and also because of the product.