Volunteers in our community

Abel’s Ice Cream owners, Jerry & Jill Williams

By Jane Bartnett

Being a good neighbor and giving back to the Siesta Key/Sarasota community comes naturally to Jerry & Jill Williams, owners of Abel’s Ice Cream on Stickney Point. “I’m a huge proponent of helping people in times of need,” said Jerry as he prepared one of his signature Abel’s Ice Cream sundaes. “It’s important to give back to the community.”

For Jerry and Jill, nothing tops their commitment to supporting the work of “VW Hope in a BackPack,” the Village Walk (Palmer Ranch) based 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that provides weekly donations of non-perishable food to children-in-need, who attend Sarasota County’s Fruitville Elementary Public School. “This school year there are 185 Fruitville children whose families fall below the federal poverty guidelines,” notes VW Hope in a BackPack Founder Sharon Leber. “We are very thankful to Abel’s Ice Cream for their support and commitment to helping us end childhood hunger in Sarasota.” Abel’s has been a supporter of the charity since the non-profit’s early days.

“When we bought the store from Bill and Norma Abel in 2015, they told us about their work with VW Hope in a BackPack. Right away,” Jerry said, “ Jill and I decided that this was a cause we could really get behind. Kids are the future and education is important. They can’t learn well if they are hungry. When we can help, we should. Growing up in inner-city Kansas City, I’ve seen firsthand how families can struggle, often through no fault of their own. I value the lessons I learned during that time. VW Hope in a BackPack is a help-up organization, it helps families to improve their lives. When Sharon asked us to be the co-chairs of their 10th anniversary gala, we said yes!”

For these two Kansas City area natives, Abel’s Ice Cream and Siesta Key are now home. In 2015, the couple started to research a move to Florida, in hopes of buying a business on or near an island. When they discovered Abel’s, it was a match made in heaven.

Fast forward to 2020 and a sunny afternoon at Abel’s Ice Cream. Jerry Williams is behind the counter and the sounds of the Beach Boys fill the air as customers enjoy their afternoon ice cream. “Sarasota is where all the best people in the world come to meet,” Jerry said with a smile as he surveyed the more than 40 flavors of ice cream, sherbet and yogurt that keep customers coming back for more. He runs the day-to-day Abel’s business while Jill works behind-the scenes and plays a vital role in the shop’s success. With more than 25 years of restaurant management experience, including a national recognition in 2013 as “Outstanding Manager of the Year,” Jerry knows the restaurant business. The decade that he spent in the financial services industry is the cherry on the top of the ice cream sundae. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “What we have here at Abel’s is the fun part of the restaurant business. Ice cream,” Jerry says, “brings people together.”

“My favorite things about the restaurant business are all in abundance here at Abel’s. It’s a social environment. Our staff is the highest quality and our customers are amazing. I mean seriously, I’m serving ice cream next to the #1 beach in the world. I can’t imagine doing anything better than that!” Customers flock to this small ice cream oasis from all parts of the world. “People drop in and start talking to each other. They make friends. There’s nothing sad about eating ice cream,” he said with a laugh.

As the new year and a new decade dawns, Jerry predicts that “our Stellar Coffee Ice Cream with fudge swirl and little chocolate cups filled with coffee will continue to trend.” And for the younger set? “Superman or Birthday Cake Ice Cream, with pieces of yellow cake, blue cotton candy flavored icing and rainbow sprinkles.”

In addition to Abel’s support for VW Hope in a BackPack, Jerry and Jill have also developed successful local partnerships with several Siesta Key small businesses including Tropical Shores Gourmet Popcorn. Local photographer Wendy Cohen’s framed color photographs of Siesta Key’s iconic lifeguard chairs and wildlife do double-duty. They not only decorate Abel’s walls but are also for sale.

“We want to give our customers the best local and home-away- from home experience possible,” Jerry reports. From far off Mt. Pleasant, Texas, in the Dallas-area, comes Abel’s large selection of hand-made chocolate candies from Sweet Shop USA. As a nod to New England visitors, there is a selection of Stone Wall Kitchen Jellies from York, Maine. “Ice cream is cool, says Jerry, “it brings people together.”

For sponsorship and ticket information for the February 24, VW Hope in a BackPack, 10th Anniversary Gala, contact T.M. Liuzzo at: tmliuzzo@att.net.