Rita's was founded in 1984 by former Philadelphia firefighter Bob Tumolo with a recipe that he purchased from an elderly neighbor that he then adjusted to enhance the flavors and include real fruit. Rita's originally advertised its product as "water ice", using the colloquial term for what is sometimes called "Italian ice" in other areas of the country. By 1987 a second store was opened, and in 1989 the family decided to franchise their business. Today, there are over 600 locations in 25 states and the District of Columbia. In May 2005, the company was sold to McKnight Capital Partners, a private equity group with extensive franchise experience. McKnight Capital Partners recognized the organization’s growth potential and set into place plans to take the company to the next level.
In 2013, Rita's opened its first location outside of the United States in Shenzhen, China. Rita's has traditionally given out a free regular-sized water ice on the first day of Sprin