By: Stacy M. Brown/ NNPA
Kathyrn Snapka recalled fondly when the blue and white ice cream would pass through her close-knit neighborhood with a familiar jingle that kids responded to like fans at a rock concert.
“It used to make our smiles brighter,” recalled Snapka, the founding partner at The Snapka Law Firm.
“Ice cream trucks were an important part of my childhood. They were not only a source of all children’s favorite treats but much more. Everyone would rush out at the same time and run to the truck to get their ice cream first.
“Then, we’d all sit together and devour the ice cream before it melted in the summer heat. All these moments were brought together by something simple – the ice cream truck.”
James Green, the owner of Cardboard Cutouts, recalls playing with others in his neighborhood and how everything would cease when the Mister Softee truck arrived.
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“All games would stop, and kids would sprint home to beg for money and chase the ice cream truck down the street until it stopped,” Green remarked.
However, Green sadly noted the ice cream truck, such an iconic figure from his and so many others’ childhood, had mainly disappeared from society.
“In much of America today, neighborhoods are largely empty compared to just a few decades ago,” Green said.
“This makes it difficult for ice cream truck drivers to make enough money to keep up with the increased licensing and permits they’re required to have. The hordes of children playing in the streets of my childhood are all inside or in structured sports programs where they’re supervised. Unfortunately, the ice cream truck and free-range children are on their way out.”
Indeed, many ice cream truck owners have complained of rising prices.
A recently published report noted that the diesel that powers the trucks had topped $7 a gallon, vanilla ice cream costs $13 a gallon and a 25-pound box of sprinkles now goes for about $60, double what it cost a year ago.
The New York Times reported that many vendors in the Big Apple said the end of the ice-cream-truck era had been years in the making.
“Even the garages that house these trucks are evolving, renting parking spaces to other types of food vendors as the ranks of ice cream trucks dwindle,” the newspaper reported.
Further, the report noted that, parks, pools, and residential streets were once prime territory for the ice cream man.
However, more often than not, a soft-serve truck’s jingle plays to a crowd of no one as prices for some cones with add-ons like swirly ice cream and chocolate sauce reach $8 at some trucks.
Also, new delivery methods reportedly are proliferating through third-party apps or ghost kitchens.
“Brick-and-mortar scoop shops focus on offering a fun experience and serve dozens more flavors than a traditional ice cream truck can, driving lines away from these vehicles,” the report stated.
Despite the shortage of ice cream trucks, a hot August day still conjures sweet memories for many.
“Ice cream trucks held emotional value for past generations … eating ice cream was a celebration,” said Brian Nagele, the CEO of Restaurant Clicks and a consultant for Food and Beverage brands.
“Today, Mister Softee invested in an app so customers can track the truck’s journey. But technology comes with large overhead costs and maintenance. In addition, it’s expensive to stay relevant in a highly competitive market,” Nagele stated.
“Kids will never stop loving ice cream, but they may not appreciate the ice cream truck as we did in the past. If the truck doesn’t come around today, they could easily walk across the block and buy a tub in the nearest supermarket.”
David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria lamented that what’s most striking remains how animosities and loyalties that pitted children against each other when he grew up were instantly forgotten as they waited in line for a fudgesicle, ice cream cone, or a chocolate éclair bar.
“Enemies became friends, even if for 15 minutes while we all sat on the curb cooling off,” Leite recalled.
“And it wasn’t only our generation that reached an afternoon détente. Our mothers, some who had been fighting through chain-link fences for years, would stand together, pressing their cold treats to their necks or cheeks as they watched over us.”
He continued: “Ice cream trucks were our version of social media. It brought us out of our living rooms and kitchens and up from the sandlots and playgrounds and reminded us daily that we were a part of a community.”