Talking Ice Cream and Happiness with Jeff and Sophia Olson from 3Moms Ice Cream
1. Tell us about 3Moms Ice Cream.
3Moms Ice Cream is an ice cream company. We took our inspiration from the ice cream trucks that we all knew and loved in our youth - the old school, family-friendly ice cream trucks. Our truck is a registered antique, an original 1972 Good Humor ice cream truck that we've completely refurbished, rebuilt and made our own. We're about good times and happiness and being able to have fun in an organic, healthy way. We started this because we felt that the options for ice cream trucks around here were pretty scary and they didn't offer food for people who wanted to eat in a healthier way. We have a child and we wanted to do something really fun and family friendly.
We started out wanting to be a neighborhood ice cream truck. We tried and we tried and we found that kids just don't hang out in their front yards in the way they used to. Nowadays they're busy and in a lot more organized events. As a result we've moved to serving more private events and functions. We're doing them non-stop now. People can request us at 7 in the morning or 11 at night. We have bookings every single day of the week, and sometimes 2, 3 or even 4 times in a day.
2. When did 3Moms start?
We started in April of 2012.
3. Can you tell us about what you sell?
We sell traditional ice cream treats like Bomb Pops, Italian ices, Sno Cones, Strawberry Shortcakes, and Ice Cream Sandwiches. We also have some newer items like Ben & Jerry's bars and Magnum bars. What really sets us apart though is our wide selection of treats that appeal to people looking for healthier or specialty options like gluten free, vegan, dairy free, organic or even kosher. We carry Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches, Yogurt Ice Cream Bars dipped in carob chocolate, Ice Cream Sandwiches made with rice milk and almond milk, Organic Strawberry and Coconut bars, and the list goes on and on. We have about 40 kinds of treats that are kosher, which is just not normal for an ice cream truck. Our selection of specialty items is huge because parents are a lot more cautious about what they're giving their kids and they want them to have something healthier rather than something that's just chock full of sugar.
What may be surprising to some people is just how delicious some of the healthier products are. It's interesting how many products are gluten free, for example. A lot of people shy away from gluten free products because they think they'll taste bad, or boring. But that's not the case at all. We have some really amazing, gluten free products. You'd probably not even know they were gluten free unless we told you.
4. How does the popularity of the more healthy items compare to the more traditional treats?
When people think about ice cream trucks they tend to think about kids first. And if a child is ordering something on their own they'll tend towards the traditional products. They love anything with sourness in it. For parents who are concerned about what their children are eating, they'll usually go for the fruit bars, organic items and things that are lower in sugar or dairy free.
For people in their 20's and 30's it's more of a mix. More and more these people are coming to us with very sophisticated tastes and they're looking for things like a Key Lime Sandwich, Salted Caramel and the Rice Crispy treat with ice cream inside. They want to try things they haven't had before.
5. For the ice cream, do you serve it scooped or is it in packaged form?
We're based out of Jacksonville Beach and the rules require that a food truck sells pre-packaged items, so that's what we've focused on for now.
6. Who's your main audience?
We have kids who are 2-3 and we've had one person who is 97! It's really across the board in terms of gender, age, ethnicity … everything. We like to say that we serve happiness because everyone loves ice cream.
What surprised us the most is just how great we do at corporate events and how much adults go crazy for an ice cream truck. A lot of people really love the truck because it's modern and hip while also being old school. I think it just touches on the child in anybody. Kids love our truck too but the biggest surprise has been how much adults really, really do as well.
7. What would you recommend to someone coming to your truck for the first time?
Jeff: It all depends. The Salted Caramel Sandwiches and Key Lime Sandwiches are really good. They're also my favorites because they just taste fantastic. I love key lime pie so anything that tastes like that gets two thumbs up from me. I also have a really guilty pleasure for a Strawberry Shortcake which is a very old school, traditional item. For kids I'll recommend a fruit bar such as the Organic Strawberry or Coconut - they're really refreshing.
8. Are there any particular trends in ice cream treats?
The biggest trend we've seen is the move towards healthier options. We focus on finding really delicious items that are also healthy. We get a lot of people who want something healthier but don't want to give up on the fun so they're excited to try out some of the different things we carry.
9. What's the most popular item you have?
The most popular items are the Key Lime Ice Cream Sandwich and the Coconut Fruit Bar.
10. Have any items surprised you by their popularity?
The Greek Yogurt Bars have been a real surprise. We started carrying a Blueberry Greek Yogurt Ice Cream Bar. Because of the popularity of that we've added a Peach Greek Yogurt Ice Cream Bar. A lot of people have started eating Greek yogurt on its own for taste and health reasons so these bars are very appealing to them.
11. Are there any items that you think are really good that people may not think to try right away, but they should?
We have a vegan Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Bar that is insane. For anyone who wants a fudge bar that is cool, organic and vegan, that thing is amazing. It's been a real hit even if a lot of people might not think of it, especially if they weren't looking for a vegan option.
12. Is your daughter one of your testers?
She's definitely a tester - she tries everything! She doesn't have have a singular favorite, although she loves the organic Strawberry Fruit Bar.
13. Are there any items you carry that are more Southern and may not be as popular outside of the South?
Jeff: I wish, but we don't. The closest thing we have to a Southern item is the Key Lime Sandwich. It's a huge part of our Southern plans though - we want to have a Pecan Pie Ice Cream Sandwich and to use sweet potatoes somehow in the ice cream. So, I have a lot of Southern ideas. And being a Northerner my entire life and now living in the South I have a huge appreciation for Southern food.
14. Does your selection change a lot?
It depends on the function we're working with. If we're downtown or out at a large event like fireworks, then we'll bring our full suite of everything we carry. For many of our events though the person requesting the event may have a menu in mind or a price range they want to work with. In those cases we'll put together something that suits that event.
15. Do you have a particular area of town you're focused on?
We're really nomadic. We've been as far north as Georgia to promote the opening of a battery store. We've gone to St. Augustine, Green Cove Springs and Middleburg dozens of time. We're all over, from the Beach to the Westside, Mandarin and anywhere really. When people call us and want us we'll travel pretty well anywhere that's reasonable.
16. Do you have a regular schedule for being out?
We're out both days and evenings - whenever people have events they want us at.
17. How long does a booking typically last?
We've had a booking as short as about 20 minutes and as long as 10 hours.
18. Do you have any public events that you do on a regular basis?
We will do festivals and things like that when we're invited. But they're more event by event and not necessarily on a regular schedule. We're not currently downtown. We will be, eventually, when we start producing our own ice cream. At that time we'll find a home at places like the Riverside Arts Market or some of the local farmer's markets. As it stands now we're super busy and focused on direct bookings.
19. How do people book your truck?
It's mostly through email and our website. We're also on Twitter.
20. How far in advance do people generally need to book you?
We like to do bookings a week in advance. We will take last minute bookings, but they're harder to work with because many people want very special items and we need time to properly stock the truck with treats that will appeal to their specific audience.
21. Do you operate year round?
We're still working that out. Although we've been year round it's definitely less busy in the winter. If we produce our own line of ice cream products we'll probably open a storefront and we'll be year round that way. Even though people don't always think of ice cream year round, it's still delicious even in the winter.
22. Who are the 3 Moms?
Sophia: It's me, Sophia, my mother, Nancy, and Jeff's mother, Nichol. Jeff is the one who spearheaded pulling us all together. Oftentimes Nicole or my mom will drive the truck and work at the corporate functions. Jeff and I do most of the behind-the-scenes work, although we all work on the truck at times.
23. Why did you decide on an ice cream truck?
We came to Jacksonville from New York City where there are food trucks everywhere and seemingly on every corner. It's very common when you're working in New York City to pop out and get your lunch from a food truck. It's really an everyday thing. But there weren't very many ice cream trucks in New York. There were a few specialty ones that scooped ice cream and we loved them. Coming to Jacksonville and living near the beach where you can have ice cream nearly all year round, and also having a child, we wanted to do something fun.
Jeff: Sophia and I wanted to work together. One day we were at a park and an ice cream truck rolled by and it hit me that, as a parent, I didn't want my child to get food from that sort of truck. I talked to Sophia about it and she thought I was crazy. Then I bought a truck and she said "I guess we're going to do it."
24. What brought you from New York City to Jacksonville?
Sophia: I grew up in Gainesville and went off to have some adventures. My family's still in Gainesville and when I got pregnant we decided to come back down South. Jeff has a job that lets him work remotely.
25. Did you ever consider a brick and mortar ice cream shop or were you always attracted to a food truck?
We were always attracted to the truck. We're working on our own ice cream line and want to sell that from the truck.
26. Would your own ice cream brand focus on a healthier style of ice cream?
Yes. In this day and age especially we want to give our daughter the option of something that's delicious and also healthy.
Our initial focus will be on items like a lower sugar content ice cream that's as organic as possible and really high quality. We'll also experiment with dairy free options, using soy, rice and almond milks. We've been trying some interesting cross flavors like beet ice cream, free trade chocolate ice cream with organic coffee beans in it, and sweet potato ice cream. We've been using a lot of things we grow in our garden and that are local, unique or a little obscure. People will want to try it because it's not just vanilla.
Jeff: I come from New York where we had the coolest, craziest things like peanut butter ice cream with actual strips of bacon on a banana cookie. We had some really enthusiastic chefs there. I travel around the world for my profession of fashion photographer and get to sample all these really interesting tastes. I've been compiling an inventory of things that I love. As soon as I can sit down and start producing things, I'm going to. I figure that Jacksonville is very much a part of that. We already have farm to table. If we can really pull this off and do it organically and very nearby - everything has to come from within 50 miles of Jacksonville - I think we'll have a very successful little thing.
27. For your own brand, will you focus on scooped ice cream or on packaged treats?
We'd eventually like a line of scooped ice creams but we'll probably start with ice cream sandwich style treats. They're really popular and super cool because they're easy to pull out of a package and eat. They're also easier to manufacture than many of the bars that require specialty items and processes. From our experience selling in the truck we also know that for many people with multiple kids they can't imagine ice cream staying put in a cone - it always seems to end up on the floor. So a convenient package is very welcome. Our experience is leading us to think that having the convenience of something that can be easily managed with one hand without falling on the floor or melting all over is the way to go.
28. When will 3Moms brand of ice cream be ready?
We're working on it and it should be ready soon.
29. Have there been any big surprises getting the truck going?
Jeff: There are always surprises. We've learned to adapt as the business evolves. Both Sophia and I have an entrepreneurial spirit and we don't get stuck for long. The biggest thing was going from New York City where we didn't have a car to having to drive around a truck for a living. It was mostly the mechanical things that were challenging - engines can blow in the middle of a really busy week! The other things were relatively easy. There's paperwork and a process and if you follow the process it's pretty straightforward.
30. What's the biggest thing you didn't expect when you launched the business?
Sophia: I'd say it was the corporate functions. When we opened we really thought we'd be more day-to-day street sales. We knew we'd be doing events but we didn't realize how big they'd be.
31. What's been the reaction to 3Moms? Has it been surprising?
It's been what we hoped it would be. We've both been in businesses before and knew there would be hurdles and ups and downs. But we've never owned this type of business and didn't know exactly what to expect. We went into it with goals and ideas and just put everything we had into trying to get there. One of our favorite events was at a Senior's Center in Ponte Vedra. We pulled up our truck and everyone just loved it. They really did.
32. What's next for 3Moms?
There are just so many events we're looking to be a part of. There's a huge opportunity to work with weddings and bridal showers. We're looking forward to doing a lot more private parties and branching that out to corporate and non-profit functions. We also like to do anything that helps kids, such as working with hospitals and helping kids or other people who have terminal illnesses. We think it's really, really important to support all that. Any event where people are incredibly happy, that's where we want to be. We just want to be a part of their happiness.
Longer term we've always had this idea of growing into areas like alternative toys - toys made without plastic and made locally. Also kids clothes and things like that. We've got this idea of maybe one day having a truck that's a mobile toy store or kids store. Something like that, built on the 3Moms brand, would be really cool.
33. Anything else?
Jeff: We started 3Moms based on the values of the moms - Nancy, Nichol and Sophia. They had such amazing values as parents and moms who wanted the best for their kids and the best for those around them. That's how it started, with the values these 3 women have and have bestowed upon those around them. We want to keep building on those values by delivering healthy, family friendly happiness every day.