Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri fend off scary street people, plot to fatten up tourists and engender moral turpitude in parents, and bat away foolish customer queries. Read all the installments.
This Saturday is our first official day of business! We did it! We jumped through all the hoops, and our truck is legal, and we got our spots with the city and we are going to be in business! It is not a moment too soon, because I haven’t had a paycheck since, oh, no, I don’t want to think about that. But it’s time. Past time.
Of course, getting started this Saturday means we’re starting an ice cream business on January 15. The dead of winter! It’s crazy. But we like the spots we got. One is on a path close to a place where tourists rent bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. We don’t think people will want to get ice cream as they head out for their fitness ride, but hopefully when they come back and they’re feeling all proud of themselves, they’ll want to get ice cream then.
Something I never appreciated before working on a truck is how much it exposes you to homeless people. We’ve mostly been doing Off the Grid events, which are big weekly gatherings of food trucks in underserved neighborhoods. I love them, it’s a great event, but man, were there ever crazy homeless junkies around doing weird shit. One day, I think it was Veterans Day, all the government offices were closed, and UN Plaza was just awash. Someone tried to steal our tips, and there was literally, literally a shirtless guy flailing himself with a belt and screaming in the middle of all the trucks.
With a truck, we have people knocking on the window asking for money, asking for free food, talking crazy, and it’s disconcerting. I know as a street business we have to deal with this, but our two spots in the park will be less of a challenge. The homeless people tend to stay in the entrance to the park area; I don’t anticipate being in the thick of it as much.
A lot of people have said, “Ooh you’re going to get robbed.” We try to be careful but if someone came and threatened us with a gun we’d give up the money. It’s not like we have a lot at any given time. What are our options? Of course, we will call 911 if someone is bugging us and won’t leave us alone. And we plan to knock off work before dark, anyway; after we serve, we have to go to our kitchen to unload, and that’s in a bad neighborhood, and then we have to go park the truck, and that’s in a bad neighborhood. We don’t want to be either of those places late at night.
When we did evening Off the Grids, they ended at 9:30, you get to the kitchen at 10:15, there’s no one around, it’s all desolate and dark. By the dumpster where you dump compostables, there’s a menagerie of scary wildlife: raccoons, mice, rats, feral cats, possums. And they all want what you have. You run down, you throw your stuff in the dumpster, you run back, fast as you can. But those Off the Grid events were good in terms of getting tips. People in San Francisco are pretty generous tippers. And I appreciate it! Because maybe, if I save every penny I am tipped this month, I can pay my electric bill.
It is really fun to interact with customers. They want to ask you questions about the food. A lot of people ask, “Is it organic?” Yes. “Did you make it yourself?” It’d be pretty sad if we were out here with this truck and didn’t make it ourselves, but yes. We get a lot of joking comments about do we sell drugs out of the ice cream truck? I guess the Mister Softee trucks were notorious for selling drugs along with the ice cream. But no. No drugs. We talk a lot about doing a secret menu that’s booze-related, maybe fruit soaked in booze as a topping or something, it wouldn’t even be enough to give you a buzz but hey, if it seems illicit to a mom pushing a stroller, she might buy it.
Since it’s wintertime right now and fruit is a problem, we haven’t been working on ice cream flavors as much lately, but we have been going crazy making toppings. I’ve been making toasted cashew brittle, candied ginger, toasted almonds, toasted coconut, shaved dark chocolate; we always have a butterscotch sauce, and a chocolate sauce, dark or light, and then we’ll make different fruit sauces, pineapple, strawberry. I did an apple cider sauce that was frickin’ to die for, people were like, “Oh my God, I want to take that home and bathe in it.” No one propositioned me though. Too bad.
Thank God for citrus. We’ve been making a lot of delicious things out of tangerine. Oh, when we launch Saturday, we’ll have creamsicles. Everyone loves those, we sell out every time we make them, but they’re so labor intensive. What you have to do is make the tangerine popsicle mix and vanilla ice cream. Then you have to pour tangerine into the mold until it’s filled halfway and freeze it. Then you fill it the rest of the way with vanilla ice cream and freeze it again before you can package it. It’s an outrageous amount of work, so they’re just for special occasions. We’ll have them Saturday, so tell people, there are only about 15 of them, and they’ll sell out quick. Get there early!
Twirl and Dip will open for its first day of business on Saturday, January 15, from noon until dusk at the Marina Green, Marina Green Drive at Scott Street, San Francisco. Follow the truck’s progress on Twitter.