19 Jul Nonprofit Consultant Finds Ice Cream Truck Calling
JULY 19, 2021 | BY JACOB OGLES | SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION
When the pandemic forced Tammy to shut the doors on her trolley tour business in Florida, she found a new and unexpected source of income — a 1970s ice cream truck she found on Facebook Marketplace. The ChillMobile eased her financial pain while also allowing Tammy and her dog, Max, to spread joy in their community.
After spending years working in the nonprofit and cultural arts sector, Tammy Hauser felt excited as she took on a different business venture. In 2018, she launched Discover Sarasota Tours to give bus tours of Sarasota, and while she suffered through a slow tourism year thanks to red tide, she found serious success in 2019.
“As we were going into 2020, we were looking at running three sold out trolley tours a day,” Hauser recalled. “I had thousands of tickets just booked and was over the moon.”
She got so excited about a career on wheels, she found herself buying a classic ice cream truck as well, which she dubbed The ChillMobile. Successful and chill, she was mobilized for an adventure. It just wasn’t the one the whole world embarked upon.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit virtually every sector of the economy hard last spring, but the hospitality industry took a particular bruising. On March 20, 2020, a statewide lockdown closed down the trolleys. But food delivery services were deemed an essential service by the state. As every business made a COVID pivot, Hauser turned attention full time to ice cream.
“I had the truck and zero knowledge of ice cream or how to do it,” Hauser said. “The first few weeks were so frightening. When I would go out, I might be the only one out. Maybe Amazon, myself and a couple other food trucks. It was like a post-apocalyptic movie.”
Social media helped.
“During this difficult year, social media has been a critical part of my success – from finding my truck on Facebook Marketplace to reaching and building a loyal customer base through my Facebook and Instagram pages.”
Then she started working with Visit Sarasota County and talking with homeowners’ associations and the arrival of the ice truck was turned into a legitimate event. She’s bring her truck into neighbrohoods and go door-to-door to serve families one at a time while maintaining social distancing. “I would have 200 people come out as I drove from driveway to driveway,” he said.
Eventually, the busses started running and Discover Sarasota Tours was back on the road, first booking for small groups and eventually offering full service again. “We are busier now than I had been in season two years ago,” she said.
She has a staff largely running the trolley business, though. Hauser herself remained focused on scooping ice cream. But the reopening of Florida also impacted that business. The emergency model of selling ice cream driveway to driveway no longer makes sense. Hauser has started serving at conferences and special events. On Sunday, she celebrated National Ice Cream Day at Bayfront Park, offering half off Lickity Splits ice cream cups.
“I love the spirit of this truck; it’s almost a calling,” Hauser said. “I’ve been working a long time. I have had more of a spiritual connection to me in this than anything I’ve ever done.”