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Ice Cream Trucks Are the Latest Goal of Inflation

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On a steamy evening at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, Jaime Cabal had a line of shoppers at his Mister Softee ice cream truck. He blended milkshakes, topped bowls of vanilla soft-serve with strawberries and dipped cones into cherry and blue-raspberry shell. One boy no sooner finished his treat than he begged his parents for more, pointing on the menu’s pops shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants, Sonic the Hedgehog and Tweety.

Crowds like these are becoming rarer for ice cream vendors across the country as high fuel prices feed inflation, leaving some owners of soft-serve trucks questioning their future within the business.

Owning an ice cream truck was a lucrative proposition, but for some, the expenses have develop into untenable: The diesel that powers the trucks has 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 yr ago.

Many vendors say the top of the ice-cream-truck era has been years within the making. Even the garages that house these trucks are evolving, renting parking spaces to other kinds of food vendors because the ranks of ice cream trucks dwindle.

Parks, pools and residential streets was prime territory for the ice cream man. But now, most of the time, a soft-serve truck’s jingle plays to a crowd of nobody as prices for some cones with add-ons like swirly ice cream and chocolate sauce reach $8 on some trucks.

Though no organization appears to have hard figures on just what number of ice-cream trucks are currently working the streets of Latest York City, some owners said they’d likely leave the business in the following few years. It’s a sentiment that’s felt nationwide, where mobile ice-cream vendors face higher costs for city permits and registration, and hefty competition from other ice cream businesses, said Steve Christensen, the manager director of the North American Ice Cream Association.

The ice cream truck, he said, is “unfortunately becoming a thing of the past.”

Latest delivery methods, through third-party apps or ghost kitchens, are proliferating. Brick-and-mortar scoop shops are specializing in offering a fun experience, he said, and serve dozens more flavors than a standard ice cream truck can, driving lines away from these vehicles.

“It’s horrible,” said Mr. Cabal, the ice cream vendor in Queens, who has worked on ice cream trucks for the last nine years. Inflation has even raised the associated fee of mechanical parts for the truck. Last yr, when his slushy machine broke down, a component he needed cost $1,600. He decided to attend just a few more months to repair it, but part nearly doubled in cost, to $3,000. Now, the slushy is off the menu and the machine is sitting in his garage.

In 2018, Mr. Cabal thought business within the Flushing Meadows Corona Park can be ok to support his own truck, so he sold his house in Latest Jersey for $380,000, moved to Hicksville, N.Y., and acquired a Mister Softee franchise. He won a contract with town to operate within the park.

Despite the tens of hundreds of dollars he pays every year for that let and others, Mr. Cabal has contended with unlicensed vendors who sell fruit, empanadas and Duro wheels from baby strollers, and even ice cream from pushcarts strategically placed around his truck. He said they undercut him on price a lot that it’s not possible for him to compete.

In Lower Manhattan, Ramon Pacheco is combating his recent decision to boost his prices by 50 cents to account for a few of his increased each day expenses, like $80 in gasoline ($15 before the pandemic) and $40 in diesel, ($18 earlier). He now pays about $41 for the three gallons of vanilla ice cream that used to cost him $27.

He has sold ice cream for 27 years, and for the reason that pandemic, he said he’s noticed a drop-off in demand. He now takes in as little as $200, before expenses, selling ice cream for nine hours. Sometimes, if an everyday customer involves him with $2 for ice cream, he’ll just sell it at a loss.

“I’m 66, and I’m drained,” Mr. Pacheco said in Spanish, adding that he’s considering of selling his truck next yr.

Carlos Cutz decided to go away his job at a deli two years ago to work on an ice cream truck to support himself, his wife and their three children. He took out a loan and acquired his own truck in May.

The ice cream man he bought it from had a route in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Mr. Cutz has resisted raising the costs to avoid alienating his customer base, regardless that his expenses have doubled for products like a package of 250 cake cones.

“These have been the worst years for ice cream trucks,” he said in Spanish, adding “I’m going to attempt to do the very best that I can to proceed with this business. I’m feeding my family, and I can’t leave a business I haven’t tried.”

The worth of gasoline has been essentially the most shocking expense in recent months for Andrew Miscioscia, the owner of Andy’s Italian Ices NYC which operates three trucks for personal catering events. He spent $6,800 in June on gas alone. Mr. Miscioscia pivoted to catering through the pandemic when sales slipped on the Upper West Side.

“People are usually not getting out like they used to,” he said. “And there’s plenty of competition on the market.”

Still, the looks of an ice cream truck on a hot summer day stays a thrill for a lot of. At Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Domenica Chumbi, of Hillside, N.J., held a vanilla cone dipped in cherry shell for her quinceañera photos. The pink-hued ice cream not only matched her dress and her party’s theme of cherry blossoms, nevertheless it also summoned memories of childhood visits to the park.

“It’s something that jogs my memory of Latest York,” she said.

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