Surprise Hits: Dippin' Dots -- the ice cream of the future has finally arrived

For two decades, Dippin' Dots has been the "ice cream of the future." Like jetpacks and flying cars, it seemed like the future would never quite arrive for the little ice-cream balls that microbiologist Curt Jones invented in 1988. For years, they were an exotic, hard-to-find treat. But recently the beads of ice cream are showing up all over the place -- at thousands of kiosks at amusement parks, theaters, malls, and stores. Not that there's anything wrong with ice cream, but it's fun to eat in the freeze-dried format.

Dippin' Dots, based in Paducah, Kentucky, is finally having its day. In 2006, MSNBC put its sales at $50 million, up 38 percent in three years. Last year, Inc. named it one of the fastest-growing private companies. Entrepreneur says it has 486 franchises, up from 420 last year.