Melting profits threatens the ice cream man | Way of life

NEW YORK β€” On a steamy evening in Queens’ Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Jamie Cabal lined up with customers outside his Mister Softee ice cream truck. He mixed milkshakes, topped bowls of vanilla soft serve with strawberries and dipped cones in cherry and blue-raspberry coating. Before one boy could finish his treat, he asked his parents for more, pointing to a menu shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants, Sonic the Hedgehog and Tweety.

Crowds like these are becoming rarer for ice cream vendors across the country as high fuel prices fuel inflation, leaving some soft-serve truck owners questioning their future in business.

Owning an ice cream truck used to be a lucrative proposition, but for some the costs have become prohibitive: truck-fueled diesel fuel has topped $7 a gallon, vanilla ice cream costs $13 a gallon, and a 25-pound box of sprinkles now costs about $60. which is twice as much as a year ago.

Many vendors say the end of the ice cream truck era has been years in the making. Even the garages that house these trucks are evolving, giving up parking spaces to other types of food vendors as the ranks of ice cream trucks shrink.

Parks, swimming pools and residential streets used to be prime territory for ice cream. But now, more often than not, the sound of a soft-serve truck comes without anyone, as prices for some cones with toppings like ice cream and chocolate sauce go as high as $8 at some trucks.

While neither organization appears to have an accurate count of how many ice cream trucks are currently operating on New York City streets, some owners have said they are likely to go out of business in the next few years. . It’s a sentiment felt across the country, where mobile ice cream vendors face higher costs for city permits and registration, as well as stiff competition from other ice cream businesses, said Steve Christensen, executive director of the North American Ice Cream Association.

The ice cream truck, according to him, “unfortunately, is becoming a thing of the past.”

New delivery methods via third-party apps or ghost kitchens are proliferating. He said brick-and-mortar ice cream shops focus on offering a fun experience and serve dozens more flavors than traditional ice cream trucks, driving lines away from those vehicles.

“It’s horrible,” said Cabal, an ice cream vendor in Queens who has operated ice cream trucks for the past nine years.

Inflation has even raised the cost of the truck’s mechanical parts. Last year, when his slush machine broke, the part needed cost $1,600. He decided to wait a few more months to fix it, but the part nearly doubled to $3,000. Now slush is off the menu, and the car sits in his garage.

In 2018, Cabal thought business in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park would be good enough to support his own truck, so he sold his New Jersey home for $380,000, moved to Hicksville, New York, and bought a Mister franchise Softee. He got a contract with the city to work in the park.

Despite the tens of thousands of dollars he pays each year for that permit and others, Cabal has struggled with unlicensed vendors selling fruit, empanadas and duros from baby carts and even ice cream from carts strategically placed around his truck. Supposedly, his price was killed so much that it is impossible to compete.

In lower Manhattan, Ramon Pacheco is struggling with his recent decision to raise prices by 50 cents to account for some of his increased daily costs, such as $80 for gasoline ($15 before the pandemic) and $40 for diesel ($18 before). He now pays about $41 for three gallons of vanilla ice cream, which used to cost him $27.

He’s been selling ice cream for 27 years, and after the pandemic, he said he noticed a drop in demand. Now he earns only $200 before expenses by selling ice cream for nine hours. Sometimes, when a regular customer comes to him with $2 for an ice cream, he just sells it at a loss.

The cost of gas has been the most shocking expense in months for Andrew Michioshi, owner of Andy’s Italian Ices NYC, who operates three trucks for private catering events. In June, he spent $6,800 on gas alone. Miscioscia turned to catering during the pandemic, when sales fell on the Upper West Side.

“People don’t go out like they used to,” he said. “And there’s a lot of competition.”

Nevertheless, the appearance of an ice cream delivery man on a hot summer day remains a thrill for many. At Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Domenica Chumby of Hillside, N.J., held a vanilla cone dipped in cherry shell for her quinceanera photos. The pink ice cream not only matched her dress and the cherry blossom theme of her party, but also brought back memories of visiting the park as a child.

β€œIt kind of reminds me of New York,” she said.

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