Dippin’ Dots creator to lead Homecoming parade

By Gus Bode

Ice cream company founder is 1981 SIUC alumnus of microbiology

Curt Jones spent most of his student career at SIUC in Morris Library.

He can’t remember attending football games or even participating in Homecoming, but he will be leading this year’s homecoming parade as its grand marshal.


Jones, a 1981 alumnus, is the creator and founder of Dippin’ Dots, Ice Cream of the Future. He wasn’t always an entrepreneur of ice cream, but rather a microbiologist producing pro-biotics to help animals’ digestive systems.

While working at Alltech International Biotechnology in the late 1980s in Lexington, Ky., Jones was experimenting with yogurt bacteria freezing techniques and turning them into small pellets. One weekend, he was making homemade ice cream with his neighbor when he said he realized, “hey, this is what I do.”

Soon, Jones was applying the pellet technique to ice cream.

Dippin’ Dots is made by flash freezing ice cream, which makes it into tiny balls of ice cream. This form of ice cream must be kept at much colder temperatures than the average household freezer. Because of this, the product is widely available in amusement parks and not sold at retail grocery stores.

In 1988, Dippin’ Dots began in Grand Chain, Ill., his hometown near Cairo, but two years later, production had expanded so far that its headquarters had to be moved to Paducah, Ky.

By 2002, Dippin’ Dots Franchising, Inc., was ranked the top “New Franchise Company” by Entrepreneur Magazine.

“I never would have thought I would be in the ice cream business,” said 44-year-old Jones. “But I always thought I would have my own business.”


Jack Parker, dean of the College of Science, said Jones always showed his entrepreneurial side, even as a student in microbiology department.

“Curt was always trying to do something practical with what he learned,” said Parker, who is also a faculty member in microbiology. “It was so unlike me that it was fun to be around him because he would look at things differently. He certainly wasn’t focused on ice cream. He was focused on using his knowledge to do something new.”

Jones didn’t have a traditional college experience. He transferred with an associate’s degree from Shawnee Community College. He soon found himself wrapped up in research and studying, especially while working toward his master’s degree, and he said somehow he missed the usual sports events.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I always think about going back to college again just to experience it.”

John Martinko, the chair of the microbiology, said the department has had a great relationship with Jones over the years, including his visits to the campus to demonstrate the microbiology of the ice cream.

“You don’t get more than one or two of those in a lifetime,” Martinko said of Jones, “but overall, we have a pretty successful program.”

Jones said his Southern Illinois upbringing and education at SIUC gave him a unique outlook on the business.

“I think the way I grew up has had a lot to do with my success,” he said. “The combination of the two makes you think you can do anything. I think you have to have that kind of confidence to compete in the market place or in a field where people are always coming up with novel ideas.”

With his ice cream becoming a staple concession in many amusement parks both nationally and internationally, Jones said his Southern Illinois honesty has helped the company be successful. The company recently won Vendor of the Year for all Six Flags Theme Parks and another award from the World Water Park Association. The ice cream touts 24 flavors.

“My philosophy on business is to just be honest. Tell people what you can do and then do it,” he said. “There are no binding contracts. We tell people the minute the stand stops working for you, call us and we will come pick it up.”