Ice cream trucks get an epicurian upgrade

Ice Ice Baby · Ice Cream Man Matt Allen stands guard over his truck, from which he delivers free treats. - Photo courtesy of the Ice Cream Man

Ice Ice Baby · Ice Cream Man Matt Allen stands guard over his truck, from which he delivers free treats. - Photo courtesy of the Ice Cream Man

The unmistakable jingle of the frozen treat-filled truck as it merrily made its way down the street used to have children scurrying to grab dollar bills and change, running outside to flag down the ice cream man before he got away.

Now, with the latest technology at their fingertips and their own freezers stocked with ice cream, the ice cream truck simply does not put the same excited twinkle in their eyes. To remedy this dying American tradition, a new age of mobile desserts has taken hold in Los Angeles, one that revolves around two key ingredients: gourmet treats and Twitter.

Thanks to the advent of Twitter — a forum for updating the world on what you are doing at all times — the days of chasing down the ice cream man, frantically waving dollar bills, are a thing of the past. A few clicks of the mouse will reveal the current location of your favorite mobile dessert truck, and, if you’re lucky, also what they are serving, how long they will be there and the secret to getting a special discount.

“All mobile food is dependent on Twitter or something like it to get the word out about their product,” said Natasha Case, co-founder of Cool Haus, a new Los Angeles-based mobile ice cream company. “It’s a great way to build fan loyalty.”

Case and co-founder Freya Estreller made their Cool Haus

debut at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April, selling made-to-order ice cream sandwiches with architectural themes from a revamped postal truck. Using local, organic ingredients whenever possible, the ice cream sandwiches have names such as “Frank Behry” — strawberry ice cream between sugar cookies — and “Mintimalism” — mint chip between chocolate cookies — cleverly combining the company’s two most important inspirations.

Ice cream and architecture might seem like an odd combination, but for these women, both in their mid-20s with an equal love for food and design, their business’ combination of the two — which they like to call farchitecture — is a dream come true.

“There’s something very architectural in the way that the mobile food truck challenges the urban sprawl in LA,” Case said. “You’re not limited to the bricks and mortar of a retail space.”

You’re also not limited to charging for your treats, as Matt Allen, also known as the Ice Cream Man, has made apparent in his five years spent traveling the country giving away free ice cream.

Choosing the name Ice Cream Man for his company simply because the term “makes people feel good,” Allen set out five years ago with the goal of giving away half a million free ice cream treats. So far, more than 210,000 have been given away and he hopes to reach his goal by the end of next year.

“It’s going to be tough, but I love the challenge,” Allen said. “We’re trying to build a business model based on giving away free ice cream.”

Although Ice Cream Man gives away pre-packaged treats similar to those sold from a traditional ice cream truck, there is nothing traditional about the way Allen conducts his people-pleasing business. Based in Long Beach, Allen uses Twitter to alert ice cream lovers where in the country he’s going to be, usually stationing the Ice Cream Man truck, which he affectionately calls Bessie, at various music festivals and stores that sponsor his company.

“It’s a relatively inexpensive business to start and I think that the brick and mortar stores are just not as prevalent anymore,” Allen said. “There’s no point in investing hundreds of thousands of dollars and locking yourself down in that one spot when you can invest a lot less and do something along the same lines with a mobile company.”

Although Sprinkles, the ever-popular cupcake store in Beverly Hills, began as a stationary retail spot, even they seem to have caught on to the growing trend of mobile sweets. Getting its start in May of this year, the Sprinklesmobile travels around Los Angeles, selling the shop’s specialty cupcakes both on public streets and at private events.

“We get so many requests to open Sprinkles stores all over greater LA,” said Nicole Schwartz, a Sprinkles marketing assistant. “The Sprinklesmobile is a great way to reach customers who drive all the way to Beverly Hills to visit our store.”

Like both Cool Haus and Ice Cream Man, the Sprinklesmobile has a Twitter account, usually giving its followers a couple hours notice about where it is headed, and then tweeting again once it has arrived at the location.

“Mobile food customers seem to be very tech-savvy and up to date with Los Angeles happenings,” Schwartz said. “As more businesses have entered the market with a higher quality gourmet product, customers’ perception and expectation of mobile food has transformed with this trend.”

While taco trucks and other mobile food have been a staple in Los Angeles for years, the new gourmet dessert trucks seem to be bringing mobile food to consumers.

“In the last two years, it has become a mainstream thing,” Case explained. “Food trucks are getting a yuppier, hipper, untraditional taco truck crowd.”

Though this crowd might have stopped chasing down the traditional ice cream trucks upon hearing the approach of the jolly jingle, they have taken up a new form of chasing their desserts by utilizing Twitter as a tracking device. And when the modern mobile dessert vendors manage to put the same twinkle in their customers’ eyes that traditional ice cream trucks once did, they know that what they’re doing is truly worth it.

“You can make your dreams come true with a mobile restaurant,” Estreller said.

Your dreams and the dreams of thousands of ice cream-lovers who, with Twitter and the updated mobile dessert trucks, are able to relive their childhood ice cream truck chases in a more modern, grown-up way.