Shelby: 'We bought
an ice cream
Shelby Kleininger lived out all our childhood dreams and bought an ice cream truck on a whim with her sister one summer in Edmonton, Alberta. She shares what it was like running the business and the colourful characters they encountered along the way. Post-her ice cream truck days, Shelby studied Classical Studies at York University in Toronto. She currently resides in Tofino.
WC: How did your ice cream truck come about?
Shelby: I was between jobs and schools at the time, I had done a year in cabinetmaking but I didn’t want to pursue it so I was taking some time off. My dad called me one day while he was driving beside an ice cream truck and to take down the number because they were hiring. I wasn’t too keen, but my sister Sheridan heard about it and thought it would be a cool job, so she started looking online for a truck.
All her searches brought her to Kijiji where she saw an ad for a giant ice cream cone-shaped trailer. It was a couple hours outside of Edmonton and it was Father's Day so we decided to take a family road trip to have a look.
On the way up we brainstormed ideas of what we would call it and what our uniforms would be. When we got there we were blown away. It was so cool. We went to dinner in their small town to talk it over, and we decided to buy it. We went back to the owners and before we’d even said anything they brought the price down, so we bought it on the spot.
WC: Can you describe the journey driving it home to its new spot?
Shelby: A week after we bought it we went back to drive ‘The Cone’ home. We had to get a tow put on our car. The truck was about 11ft wide and bigger than the average lane. It also started rocking if you went too fast so we were limited to going 50km/h on a road where the maximum was 100. As we were driving so slow lots of people passed us and we could see them taking pictures of us which we thought was hilarious. We parked it at our house for a while until we could figure out where to put it and it became the talk of the neighbourhood.
When we found a spot to park it we had to move it during off hours so there would be fewer cars on the road and we were less likely to hit something. My best friend texted me and told me a radio station was talking about us, so I guess people were calling in. They were trying to guess what the truck was– some people thought it was a cupcake, or even a nipple.
WC: What did your friends and family think of your new venture?
Shelby: They were all in kinda disbelief and thought we were joking, but once that wore off, they were all excited for us.
WC: What are some of the first things you learned running the ice cream truck?
Shelby: That there are so many things that can go wrong, and to not trust that just because it worked for someone else it will work for you. The previous owners had it plugged into a gas station so they had unlimited power and water, but we couldn’t do that. We had to be completely self sustaining.
The first summer we bought it we actually couldn’t get it up and running because everything kept breaking. Once we solved one problem, we would realise something else that needed attention and fixing.
We also had to learn about ice cream and how to make it, then get a system going and schedule for when to order ice cream and how much, all things that are usually already in place when starting a new job somewhere.
WC: What was the spot like where you parked when you got it up and running?
Shelby: We had a couple of spots, but eventually settled in a neighbourhood on top of an old gas station beside a grocery store, so it was already a community spot. We had a lot of families as customers, and a lot of regulars.
We had one couple Blake and Jay, who came everyday with their little terrier Maggie. We gave lots of our other regulars nicknames before we knew their real names just for fun. There was a guy who came almost every night and would order two ice creams so he could try everything. We called him Gucci because he always wore a Gucci shirt and sunglasses. We eventually learned his name was Wes but we still called him Gucci when were were letting each other know who was coming.
There were also these two guys who came almost every night too and we called them Mario and Luigi, because they really looked like older versions of the characters. Sometimes we never got their actual name but we saw them enough that we felt they needed one. I named one guy Gus because he looked like he could be named Gus and also sort of resembled a character in Breaking Bad, whose name was Gus.
WC: What sort of flavours did you sell?
Shelby: We had 30 flavours of soft serve. Our base was vanilla but we had flavours we would pump and mix into the ice cream so there were infinite possibilities. Popular combos were things like black liquorice and orange, and apple pie and caramel. Kids were always the funniest with their flavours and often mixed root beer and bubble gum, which we thought was pretty gross but the kiddos loved it.
The first week we probably had an ice cream a day but we quickly learned we would get sick of it so fast. I was often the person making the ice cream and I had to taste the flavours to make sure they were the right amount, so I just used a tooth pick to try it. Some were definitely better then others.
WC: What was it like working with your sister?
Shelby: We’d just come back from a two month trip together in Israel and Greece then we jumped into this business with 12 hour days, so it was challenging at times. We definitely learned our limits with each other, haha.
WC: What were the biggest things you learned about running a business?
Shelby: There are going to be many ups and downs. We learned we just had to roll with it and find a solution. We made the front page of the newspaper, but that meant people flocked to us and our ice cream machine was small so it couldn't really handle so many people at one time.
We also had to deal with security, it being a small trailer meant that it was easy to break into, and it was. We had two big generators to run all the machines that were both stolen one night. It was the last weekend before we closed for the season. So that was really terrible but we rented a heavy duty one because we didn't want to close the season that way. We wanted it to be on our terms.
We also had to learn about admin stuff and finances. How to count the cash at the end of the night and how to do banking for a small business. Things we never even thought about we now had to do and do it well to keep our business going.
WC: What happened to the truck and how long did it run for?
Shelby: The Cone ran for about two years, then we decided it was time to move on. We all loved the business but I was going to school in Toronto by then and my sister had just graduated.
The truck was also very seasonal and Edmonton was seeing a lot of rain and hail even in summer. Generally people don't want ice cream when it’s cold, so we decided to sell it while the going was good so we’d still have some sweet memories of it when it was gone.