Ice cream trucks sell ice cream, yes, but they’re so much more than mobile soft-serve dispensers. In fact, they are at least two additional things.
They are, for a start, hotbeds of hidden jealousy, controversy, and other back-stabby stuff. The City issues licences to truck owners but doesn’t dictate the finer points of routes and scheduling. And so, Toronto’s mobile ice cream community is ruled by an intricate web of informal agreements that occasionally break down, sometimes publicly.
Number two is that they are SUMMER INCARNATE, selling us little hits of happiness for $2 apiece. Anyone who dislikes ice cream in hot weather is basically an enemy of fun. Lactose intolerance is no excuse; jeez, just get a slushie.
In the spirit of that second, less-jaded interpretation, we bring you a two-part series of profiles of some of the downtown core’s best-known ice cream trucks. We sampled all of their wares, and, where possible, talked to them about the biz.
Truck the First: The One Outside Roy Thomson Hall (King Street, west of Simcoe Street)
TASTING NOTES: Serving sweet-toothed financiers, this truck’s chocolate soft-serve isn’t the richest but has a nice, light makeup. Flavour not unlike a Wendy’s chocolate Frosty.
OWNER: Ake Alexopoulos, who greets customers in a stylish uniform consisting of a white dress shirt, a black apron, and a bow tie.
Torontoist: How long have you been in the business?
Alexopoulos: I’ve been doing this for four years, now.
Where do you drive in from?
I drive in from Brampton.
So, are you a sole proprietor or are you part of a fleet?
I’m a sole proprietor. I’ve got my thoughts on fleets and that. A long time ago, before, in the old business, it used to be everybody owned their own truck. Owner-operator. And they took care of their trucks; they took care of their customers. Now, you’ve got guys out there that have 30 trucks in a fleet, and they’re looking to hire drivers. You’ve got to pay a percentage to the driver. The driver doesn’t give that personal service to the customers.
Whereas, myself being an owner-operator, I’ve got my route that I run, and I run it every day. You get to know your customers—give them a little better quality service.
What’s with the bow tie?
If you want to wear a bow tie, you’ve got to have a truck that’s presentable. You’ve got to have a truck that’s clean. You’ve got to have a quality product. And then you can have a bow tie, too.
What’s your route?
When I’m not here, I’m running the streets. Because I can’t be parked here [after 4:00 p.m. on weekdays]. So I run the streets down along College. I do that until it starts getting dark. And then Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights I might come back here. Depends on the weather. And some nights I’m out until one o’clock.
Do you have a jingle?
I have the old Mr. Softee song. It’s just the song that came with the truck, and I stuck with it.
So, you said you got into the business four years ago. What had you been doing before that?
I was working in a warehouse for 25 years.
So, was ice cream your dream?
It wasn’t my dream. It was something—I did it when I was 15 years old.
What do you do in the off season?
I work with a cousin of mine, who’s an electrician.
What do you like most and least about the job?
Most? When you’re driving down the street, and you’re bringing the ice cream. Everybody’s happy; you’re bringing happiness. It’s all the treats for the kids, and the ice cream truck’s bigger than life.
I think you bring a lot of joy to the kids, even the shy kids. You can get the shiest kid to talk to you. All the kids want to talk to the ice cream man.
The thing I don’t like the most about it is I’m a single parent. I have a 14-year-old daughter of my own, and I’m in the truck for the whole summer. You’re in here seven days a week. This is my six-by-six cell for the summer. I’m in here 12 hours a day, and I miss my daughter.
What makes your ice cream the best?
What makes my ice cream the best? My ice cream machine. I use a quality product, so I start with a quality product. And then I know how to fine-tune my machine; I know how to operate my machine. A lot of these other guys, these guys who don’t own the trucks and that, they don’t know. They’re not very versed on the machines and how to operate them.
What It Takes to Keep An Ice Cream Truck Vendor’s License
Every ice cream truck working Toronto’s streets has what’s called a “Metro License” or “Toronto License,” issued through the City’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division. Holding onto that license requires owners to comply with a list of stringent rules, specified in chapter 545 of the municipal code. For instance:
- Anyone licensed to dispense ice cream from the truck needs to have a food handling certificate issued by the City’s Medical Officer of Health.
- Every truck has to be insured for at least $1,000,000.
- The City performs an inspection of every licensed truck, every year.
- The “WATCH FOR CHILDREN” signs painted on the backs of all ice cream trucks are also mandated by the City.
- Ice cream truck vendors are to “refrain” from stopping within 30 metres of “any
entrance to school grounds, public park or public dock or wharf where ferries
take on and discharge passengers.”
- Trucks that are stationary are required to apply for another permit, under another chapter of the municipal code, that gives them a designated location in which to park. For downtown locations, the City doesn’t issue this type of permit to new applicants at the moment, because of a moratorium instituted by city council in 2002.
- Both types of permits need to be renewed annually.
Truck the Second: The One in Front of Robarts Library (St. George Street, south of Bloor)
TASTING NOTES: A little lighter and airier than we prefer. The product’s consistency is almost like whipped cream, but the flavour isn’t as cloying.
OWNER: Sayyaz Khokhar, who moved to Canada in 1987 and has been his own boss ever since. He guarantees exceptional soft-serve service.
Torontoist: How long have you been in business as an ice cream truck vendor?
Khokhar: Five years.
Where do you drive your truck in from?
Is your truck stationary, or do you follow a route?
We go different places. I have to follow the bylaws, and parking can be difficult.
Are you the sole proprietor, or part of a fleet?
This is my own truck.
Does your truck have a jingle?
Music, yes: 40 seconds it plays, and 40 seconds it is quiet.
What song does it play?
Uh… just music.
What do you like least about selling ice cream?
The bylaws are very hard. Parking is a problem wherever we go, especially in the downtown area. We’re not allowed to go to the parks! If it’s fenced, you can go 30 metres away from the door. If the park is not fenced, you can’t go at all. Same thing for the schools. It is stupid! I will say it. I can prove it! The people that make the bylaw, they should drive the truck one day, and they will find out how difficult it is.
What’s the best part about selling ice cream?
Well, it’s my living. So… really, I don’t know.
What do you do in the off season?
Look for other jobs. I have a truck driver’s licence, so I go and drive trucks if I get the job.
What makes your ice cream the best?
Writing and research by Steve Kupferman. Kelli Korducki contributed writing and reporting.