13 Things Ice Cream Truck Workers Won’t Tell You

Updated: Nov. 22, 2022

The classic sound of the ice cream truck instantly alerts kids to beg their parents to hand over cash for an icy tasty treat. Find out the secrets hiding in those sweet mobiles.

Top sellers never really change

Despite all of the advancements since the introduction of the ice cream truck, the true favorites never really change. At least according to Hamidu Jalloh, an ice cream truck driver with 25 years of experience. He told The Washingtonian that his best-sellers are “ice cream sandwiches, the Bomb Pops, the cartoon (popsicles)—Bug’s Bunny, SpongeBob, Spiderman.”

Mister Softee’s machine is top-notch

Without the Electro Freeze soft-serve ice cream machine, Mister Softee couldn’t possibly churn out its iconic soft-serve ice cream so quickly. According to NorthJersey.com, the integral truck appliance can turn the brand’s ice cream mix into bonafide soft serve in just two minutes. If you prefer to score your ice cream from a brick and mortar, these are the best shops for ice-cold treats in each state.

Mister Softee even has a secret menu

The iconic ice cream truck kicked off in 1956 in Philadelphia. Despite being an industry vet, it still boasts a secret menu like many quick-serve restaurants and food trucks. Serious Eats says one only needs to have knowledge of Mister Softee’s ice cream bases, vessels, toppings, and novelty items to indulge in a one-of-a-kind treat. They make an example of The Popsicle Dip, a coconut pop dipped in a magic chocolate shell. Delish!

Ice cream truck style hasn’t changed much for a reason

Sure, you have some hip, modernized ice cream trucks, like Recess out of Los Angeles, but for the most part, these vehicles stay true to the traditional look and feel. The reason has a lot to do with human psychology and our inclination to be attracted to vintage items because they offer a sense of escape, bringing us back to a simpler, easier time, similar to these vintage cars you probably wish were still around.

The truck competition can be fierce

Just because they’re peddling sweets doesn’t mean ice cream truck drivers are always so sweet to one another. “Sometimes I might go out of town for an event,” said Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck, in an interview with Mental Floss. “Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” We don’t typically see gelato trucks driving around–this is the difference between gelato and ice cream. 

Ice cream trucks aren’t always fuel-efficient

Ice cream trucks tend to have diesel engines and truly “vintage” models have to run their engines 24/7 in order to keep the freezers working. Not exactly an environmentally-friendly business. But Nissan is working on a zero-emission ice cream truck model called Sky to Scoop that will hopefully revolutionize the industry if it comes to full fruition, according to Tech the Lead. In other important news, this is the real deal on America’s favorite ice cream flavor.

Truck maintenance gets expensive

You might think maintaining an ice cream truck is a less expensive way to get into the ice cream game than, say, opening a brick-and-mortar shop. But keeping up the vehicle can get costly. “I buy a new engine almost every other year,” Teddy Athas, a Mister Softee truck driver, told City Lab. “I don’t really keep track of how much it costs, but it’s a lot. Plus, I have to pay for gas. The truck has two tanks, so that’s the expensive part. And we get evaluated by the health department, so we have to keep everything really clean and up to date.”

Ice cream truck drivers are independent contractors

Back in the day the big brands, like Good Humor, would hire full-time employees to hit the road in their iconic vehicles. But the Washington Post reports these days drivers own their individual trucks, meaning they work for themselves. It’s a bonus because they can set their own schedules, but a grind in terms of all that this entails. They must get permits, health inspections, find legal parking spots, among other responsibilities of the self-employed. We may love ice cream trucks here in the U.S. of A., but around the world, there are a host of other ice cream traditions.

There are rules of the road

Every job has its rules, and ice cream truck operating is no different. In a story published on Medium, former driver Chris Mohney shared what his boss told him before sending him to hit the streets. “Drive at a walking speed of three miles per hour when selling, and always have your music on,” Mohney wrote. “Never put your truck into reverse—shift into neutral and get out to push it backward, if needed. This was because reversing ice cream trucks had a high chance of hitting a child, and as the manager told us brusquely, ‘running over a kid is a firing offense.'”

Sales can go down when you wouldn’t expect

When it’s 100 degrees outside an ice-cold popsicle or ice cream cone sounds refreshing, don’t you think? But drivers say that when it’s too hot there are fewer people willing to go outdoors, and therefore not as many customers around to here the truck’s alluring jingle. When it’s sweltering and you’re still up for a cone or cup, these are the best and worst toppings to procure for your treat.

Ice cream truck drivers see and hear everything

Drivers often zero in on a route over time, learning the rhythms of a neighborhood or city and the best places to make the most money. Reshelia Cook, who drives the Atlanta Ice Cream Truck, told Atlanta magazine, “If they (kid customers) get a good report card, I give them free ice cream. I love to see them waving that report card for me to stop. The kids know I will tell their momma or their daddy if I see them doing something they shouldn’t be.”

Successful drivers know their audience

As in any business, in order to succeed, you have to know your customer and know them well. This industry is no different. In an Inc. article, writer Jim Haudan shared what he learned from reading Lessons from an Ice Cream Truck, penned by a man who goes by Pineapple XVI. One of the most important lessons is that a good ice cream man knows that his or her business is all about “joy, excitement, and caring relationships.”

Ice cream peddlers have had some not-so-sweet moments

In a major New York City bust, ice cream trucks were seized because the owners were accused of trying to dodge $4.5 million in fines. There were 22,000 violations that occurred between 2009 and 2017, reports CBS 2 New York. The fines included those vehicles observed of running red lights, parking at fire hydrants, and blocking crosswalks.