Editor's note: This story was originally published in August 2022. The new eatery, Puro Ice, has since opened so we're re-sharing this story on Dec. 18, 2022. Ice cream made from Sullivan's recipes is not yet available, but co-owner Tanna Cole hopes to launch the ice cream in the new year. Instead, Puro Ice is currently home to Mexican Italian ice in five flavors, plus a market with Mexican candy and snacks, and items like earrings and plant houses created by local makers. Puro Ice is open 1-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.
Before 45-year-old Sullivan’s Eatery & Creamery announced its closure in June, Tanna Cole received an email.
It was from the eatery’s owner, asking if she was interested in taking a look at their restaurant equipment. Cole owns Tanna’s Botannas, most known for its “fire snacks” and spicy candies sold in more than 40 locations in Tucson.
Cole and her boyfriend Alberto “Raton” Navarro visited the now-closed Sullivan’s space on the northwest side, expecting to possibly take a fridge, or maybe the countertops to repurpose for Cole’s south-side brick and mortar at 4426 S. Sixth Ave.
But what they got was far more than that. Ultimately, the couple walked away with the recipes responsible for the well-loved Sullivan’s ice cream.
Keeping Sullivan’s alive
While visiting Sullivan’s, Cole and Navarro spotted an industrial ice cream machine.
“We basically looked at each other and said, ‘We’re going to do something with this,’” Cole recalls.
Cole and Navarro didn’t waste any time starting their first official business together. That same day, they started brainstorming, researching, even drawing sketches of logos for a potential business.
The next day, they filed the LLC. Puro Ice was born.
At Puro Ice, set to open downtown at 314 E. Sixth St. by the end of the year, the couple said they plan to offer a handful of ice creams made from Sullivan’s recipes — using the same industrial machine that was once in the Sullivan’s space.
“Their recipes looked like a treasure chest when they gave them to us,” Navarro says.
Inside that treasure chest was notecard after notecard after notecard — aged, some brown around the edges, with recipes handwritten in cursive.
“We want to keep the Sullivan’s traditions alive,” Navarro says.
But Puro Ice will not be a reincarnation of Sullivan’s. The bigger focus of the business will be icy treats with a twist — treats that are inspired by Italian ice and nieve de garrafa found in Mexico.
“What we’re making is an in-between of both of them. It’s our spin-off of both,” says Navarro, who is also a barber in Tucson.
“We always get inspiration from Mexico; my parents are from Guadalajara,” Navarro says. “When we tried (a sorbet at Sullivan’s), they made it kinda taste the same as nieve de garrafa. So we said, ‘Let’s put our little twist to this.’”
Cole and Navarro are hoping to launch real-fruit flavors in mango, watermelon and tamarindo, in addition to fun specials like watermelon-jalapeño.
But before any of that happens, it’s important to Cole and Navarro to involve their customer base, taking them along for the ride and asking for their feedback and thoughts on flavors.
“Our customers love to be involved, so we always keep them in our business and let them know everything,” she says. “If you keep them involved instead of wanting to succeed without them... (you should) succeed with your customers.”
Puro Ice downtown will also sell the rim dip and spicy candies — Gushers, Skittles, peach rings and more — that Cole’s business, Tanna's Botannas, is known for. There may even be a Tanna’s Botannas and Puro Ice collaboration in the future, with spicy candies atop the Mexican Italian ice.
“We want the businesses to be their own entity, but just how me and her are a unit, obviously our businesses will be a unit, too,” Navarro says.
Cole and Navarro's journey
Cole started Tanna’s Botannas a couple years ago, initially selling sweet treats like dipped strawberries and cake pops. She then tapped into her love of Mexico and experiences from trips with Navarro to Guadalajara as inspiration. She started coating candies in her own 20-spice blend — and business took off.
“If I wouldn’t have gone on those trips with him, none of this would’ve happened,” Cole says.
Cole quickly pivoted, starting her Tanna's Botannas food truck in 2021. Then this spring, she opened the brick and mortar that was initially supposed to be an indoor space for customers, but now houses back stock due to the continued boom of the business. The food truck parks in the back courtyard where there's lots of outdoor seating for Tanna's Botannas fans to enjoy their Hot Cheetos drenched in nacho cheese, aguas frescas, and candy tacos.
The ultimate goal is for Tanna’s Botannas and Puro Ice to keep expanding.
“If Eegee’s was able to start from nothing and create the empire they have now, why can’t we?” Navarro says.
But for both Navarro and Cole, a big goal focuses on community.
“We really want to make it like you can come hang out and enjoy your time here,” Navarro says of the current Tanna's Botannas space.
There have already been two pop-up markets in the Tanna's Botannas location and a back-to-school giveaway. Cole hopes to open the spot up for other food trucks to get a slice of the action, too. Movie nights, with a projection screen on one of the walls, are also being planned.
In addition to the brick-and-mortar for Puro Ice downtown, the couple hopes to have a spot for Puro Ice at Tanna's Botannas, too, through either a shipping container or a second food truck. The hope is for Puro Ice to also be available at stores where Cole's spicy candies are sold.
Cole, 24, and Navarro, 25, met in middle school and started dating in high school. Now, they work 14-hour days — never really taking a day off, eating dinner at 10 p.m. or on the go in the car.
“We never really have an end goal,” Navarro says, though adding that they want to be able to provide for their future family, retire and enjoy life, and give back to the community.
“Once we reach something, we’re like, ‘Now what?’” Cole says, adding: “We’re very persistent. Once we put our mind to something, we’re going to get it done.”
“When she started Tanna’s Botannas, we were dating for five years already. She started out of her mom’s house. It was crazy. It was hectic, with me as a barber and her as Tanna’s Botannas,” Navarro says. “Now we bought our own house together. She bought land for her business. Now we have our business together. It’s truly a blessing what hard work can do for you.
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