Hot Pops: In a Down Economy, More People Want to Drive Ice Cream Trucks

Chantal Anderson
Abdul Razak Falih, manager of Mel-O-Dee Ice Cream Inc. in Georgetown supplies more than 200 drivers with the goods.
Driving an ice cream truck is a profession that anyone with a van, driver's license, the ability to count change, and a kind smile can usually pull off. (OK, the smile may be optional in some cases.) So it's no surprise that with unemployment at levels not seen in decades, more people are looking to get into the frozen treats industry. Trouble is, they're all battling over a shrinking pie.

At All City Ice Cream in University Place, a neighborhood near Tacoma, company owner John Gore has doubled the number of drivers he's hired this summer from 5 to 10. "Pretty much everybody that comes to drive an ice cream truck is out of work before," he says. "It's not like they start off with ice cream as their career choice."

Unfortunately, driver sales are off by around $75 a day compared to last year. Gore used to buy a thousand bucks worth of ice cream from his suppliers every 3 days, he says; now he's spending that much every 4.5 days. He says it's partly due to the bad economy, and oversaturation of the market.

Chantal Anderson
Eduardo Huenta Gallardo packs his ice cream into coolers and ice chests in the back of his caravan in Georgetown outside of Mel-O-Dee Ice Cream Inc.

In Seattle, where the drivers are mostly independent and self-employed, many buy up their inventory at Mel-O-Dee Ice Cream Inc. in Georgetown. Mel-O-Dee manager Abdul Razak Falih says he's supplying 30 new drivers this summer alone--the biggest increase he's seen since he started at the company four summers ago. But while there are more drivers, they're not buying as much product: Sales at Mel-O-Dee are down by 25-35 percent compared to last year.

Arriving at Mel-O-Dee to load up his truck recently, Kishan Singh of Tukwila, who has been driving for fourteen years, says "It's been hard, business is slow." So hard that sometimes, Singh says, he can't help but give ice cream away to crying kids who come to the van penniless.

Female drivers have been doing better than their male counterparts, according to Gore. He attributes this to the fact that they escape the stigma of ice cream men as potential "child molesters or predators" and "because men have that ice cream lady fantasy, ya' know, of her handing him the big stick."

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