Throughout his 20 years living in New York City, Douglas Quint paid the rent by playing classical music. He holds degrees from The Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School, and is currently a candidate for the Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Doug spent his adult life playing the bassoon in "whatever classical music group would hire me," and spent every summer at music festivals. He never had a summer job until he logged onto Facebook in January 2009 and noticed a friend's status update: "Contact me if you want to rent an ice cream truck." Bingo. Doug had his first summer job.
"It's boring to just have a regular ice cream truck. New York City is full of them and they all do the same stuff. We wanted to create something special." And so the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was born.
The first step was to set up a social-networking presence. Doug and his partner, Bryan Petroff, started a Facebook group, a Twitter account and a "blog that said we're going to do an ice cream truck and we have no idea whatsoever how to do it. People became interested in the truck and rallied around us via social media even before it existed."
Doug and Bryan were new to food trucks, new to soft-serve ice cream, new to everything. They blogged about the journey: developing a brand, researching ice-cream topping ideas, obtaining a mobile food vendor license, and bringing the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck to life. Readers felt like a part of the process because they really were. They weighed in, gave advice and watched Doug and Bryan's vision unfold in real time.
"The biggest surprise is how much people liked it and how much support we got from every direction," Doug says. Thanks to the Internet, a community sprung up around the idea that included food bloggers and their readers, food-truck groupies, ice cream lovers, "people who thought the idea was wacky or who had a strange sense of humor," and entrepreneurs interested in the process of building a business from the ground up.
Now The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has two summers under its belt. The first summer, Doug says, he and Bryan were "stumbling into it." By the second summer, they focused on getting it right. Doug slings the ice cream five days a week; Bryan works behind the scenes. The best part of the job? "Interacting with people and making their day better for a few minutes," Doug says.
Doug pairs "plain-old soft serve" with fun, eclectic toppings like sea salt, saba (Italian grape syrup), hot sriracha sauce, ginger syrup and curry powder. "It's the spirit of getting in a truck and doing whatever we want." Their Choinkwich (chocolate soft-serve and caramelized bacon sandwiched between two chocolate cartwheel cookies) debuted and, Doug says, "Bacon lovers everywhere danced in the streets!"
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has gotten a lot of press: the New York Daily News, the New York Times, Time Out New York, NBC, ABC, and NPR have all talked about the little ice cream truck that could.
To get this far, Doug and Bryan say they embarked on an amount of nonstop work. "It's just the two of us," Doug says. "The work could consume every minute of every day if we let it. We have to put it in our pocket sometimes and remember to focus on our lives."
And the name? "People love it. Rarely do we get negative reactions, but nothing fazes me," he says.
Doug says there would be no Big Gay Ice Cream Truck without social networking. He uses Twitter to update fans about where he's going to be for the day, the newest toppings, general truck news ("Truck's new starter is great- it STARTS the truck. Who'd a thought??"), miscellany ("Why can't the United Nations convene on Mars?"), and his social-media words of wisdom ("Be careful of oversharing!").
He types his tweets or Facebook status updates, then leaves them for awhile and considers whether his words are really worth sharing with the world. "I want things to be noticed, not to induce constant chatter." For Doug, avoiding excess chatter helps potential customers focus on finding him on the streets and seeing what new items he has on offer.
If you live in New York or find yourself there, check the truck's Twitter feed. The weather is still warm enough for soft serve topped with wasabi pea dust, Nilla Wafers or olive oil. Your day will be all the better for it.